UMass Georgia Southern Football

UMass running back Ellis Merriweather (7) and the rest of the Minutemen have been away from the practice field all week. But as their COVID-19 tests come back negative, coach Walt Bell is ready to return to work on Sunday.

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It is back to work for Walt Bell and his University of Massachusetts football coaching staff. For the Minutemen players, not so much.

The players are basically in their rooms or apartments this week, based on requirements by the state of Massachusetts and the University.

“Circumstances are a little bit different for us, knowing we are the flagship university and we’re beholding to state regulations,” Bell said. “We haven’t even really been able to get back together yet [after the Georgia Southern game].”

The Minutemen lost their belated season opener, 41-0, Saturday at Georgia Southern. Since then, UMass has two more games on the schedule. It was announced earlier in the week that UMass would play at nationally-ranked Marshall on Saturday, Nov. 7. Wednesday morning, both UMass and Liberty announced the restoration of a game that had originally been on their schedules. UMass had been scheduled to play at Liberty on Saturday, Nov. 28, but was scratched after UMass announced it would not be playing football.

In a Tweet, UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said once UMass took the field, playing Liberty was never in doubt.

“This game was contracted as part of our original 2020 football schedule,” he wrote. “Since we announced we are playing games this fall we do have an obligation to play previously contracted games, if possible.”

Now that the Minutemen are playing football, that game is back on the calendar. It has been moved, however, to Friday, Nov. 27 — the day after Thanksgiving.

“We had our [COVID-19] tests Monday and they were all negative. We’ve got another round of testing [Wednesday] and another round Friday,” Bell said in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We won’t be allowed to resume football activity until we get the entire week’s worth of testing as negative. We probably won’t be able to practice, all together as a football team, we probably won’t be able to practice again until Sunday.

“It’s a little bit unique, but we’re willing to do whatever we have to do.”

According to the most recent statistics released from UMass, there have been 3,018 total COVID-19 tests among the members of the football program with only three positive tests since June 22. That was when the players first started returning to campus.

The school announced on Thursday that there have been no positive test results since the team returned from playing Georgia Southern on Saturday.

Bell said that since the team returned from Georgia, the coaches and players have done some meetings online.

“There’s only so much of that you can do, knowing that we’ve been doing that since March,” the second-year head coach said. “We need the physical repetitions — badly.”

So, if it’ll be back to the practice field next Sunday or Monday, UMass will still have two weeks to prepare for the game against a Thundering Herd team that is ranked 22nd in this week’s Associated Press poll and 25th in the Amway/USA Today Coaches Poll.

“Are you concerned” being idle for nearly a week, Bell was asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “But there’s no point [in worrying]. Everyone’s got problems and most are glad you have them. Whenever we get our opportunity to practice and improve, we’ll do so.”

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.


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