Noah Cain returned to the Penn State campus last week and went through all the necessary steps – including testing for the coronavirus and quarantining – that will enable him to begin voluntary workouts with small groups of his teammates by next week.
However, it has been a difficult last three months for Cain, a sophomore running back who has seen four members of his family come down with COVID-19 -- all of whom are doing better, he said. He admitted Tuesday that “it was a difficult decision for me to come back.”
“I spoke to both of my parents,” he said on a Zoom conference call, “and they really felt like it was best for me to come back to State College, just knowing it’s a small town and how I can be isolated where I’m staying and just be away from a lot of extra nonsense wherever I’m at.
“I was in big cities, so when you’re in big cities there are more people traveling. With them opening everything back up, it was going to be easy for me to be exposed to more and more people. So they felt like it was best for me to come back up here during the voluntary time to see where things go.”
Cain is from Baton Rouge, La., but he said he spent half of his time away from campus in Dallas, where he has family, and the other half in Arizona, where he worked out with a trainer.
While he’s happy to see his teammates again, Cain said he’s heard the best things to do are “keep your distance and mind your business.” He has personal experience seeing how insidious the virus can be.
“I've seen what it can do to you,” he said. “It definitely needs to be taken seriously. It is not a joke. My cousin had it. My auntie had it. My mom had it. I think my family had it just from them being in Baton Rouge, so I wasn't able to go down there due to my family wanting me to stay away.
“It’s scary. Some days, you don’t know if a person is going to make it or not. So that has taught me how to take it more seriously, because I had the idea at first that I was never going to get it. But as time went on, when loved ones close to me started getting it, I started taking it more seriously and taking a lot of precautions that are needed.”
Cain had flashes of brilliance as a freshman last season, finishing second on the team in rushing with 443 yards (5.3-yard average) and scoring eight touchdowns. He fashioned back-to-back 100-yard games against Purdue and at Iowa, where he carried 15 times for 67 yards in the fourth quarter to help the Lions secure a 17-12 win.
An ankle injury, however, sidelined him for three late-season games and limited him to one carry at Ohio State. He returned for the Cotton Bowl and gave Penn State fans a glimpse of what he can do when healthy, carrying 15 times for 92 yards and two scores in the win over Memphis.
“Everybody gets nicked up, but having a long-term injury like that was an adjustment for me,” he said. “I just really learned patience, not rushing my body back, because you know your body the best, and when your body says you can’t go, you can’t go. … Just waiting my time to get back slowly so I won’t affect myself long-term.”
Cain said he began feeling 100 percent in February during winter workouts and was adding muscle that boosted his weight to 223 pounds, 15 more than in his freshman season.
“I guess my body was maturing faster than I expected,” he said. “As time went on, my body started getting adjusted to it. It has been for the better, so I'm excited about where I'm at right now and I just can't wait to go to the field with it.”
Cain again will be part of a talented Penn State running backs room that includes redshirt junior Journey Brown (890 yards last season), sophomore Devyn Ford (5.7-yard average), and four-star freshmen Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee.
In the meantime, Cain said he and his teammates will be waiting to get “the confirmation that we will have a season and camp and everything,” and do their best to stay safe.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind all the time, honestly, just because I saw how easily my family had gotten it from just being in the same room as a person who had it,” he said. “All it takes is one. So it’s definitely a concern in the back of my mind all the time.