Considering everything that has been affected by the pandemic, Temple football coach Rod Carey has been pleased with the progress of his team.
Actually, he’s just happy to be out on the field. For now, Temple keeps working toward its opener Sept. 26 at Navy. The fluidity of the pandemic can change things in an instant.
Still, the American Athletic Conference and its 11 schools are planning to play football even though there have been setbacks. Schools are scheduled for eight conference games and as many as four nonconference games. All four of Temple’s nonconference games for this season have been canceled, but interim athletic director Fran Dunphy said the school has had discussions about some potential games.
The most recent reminder of how tenuous things can be came last week when AAC member Tulsa had to suspend practice when eight football players tested positive for COVID-19.
Carey, whose first season at Temple resulted in an 8-5 record and a loss to North Carolina in the Military Bowl, said the Owls have not had to suspend practice. He did reveal that five players, who he declined to name, have opted out due to health concerns.
“It was all health and safety for these guys,” Carey said on Tuesday during a Zoom call with the media. “Now there may have been something else that played into it, that’s all they shared with me.”
Carey said he and the staff have given the players who opted out their full support: “We certainly continue with their scholarship intact like all you guys have heard, the academic support and the medical support are all still in place for them and we keep in contact with them because we have a relationship with them.”
Carey said it’s a little bit of misnomer to call what the team is doing practice. “I would say we are doing football-related activities,” he said. That means there has been no hitting in practice.
He said there are two sessions each day. The first session includes the first- and second-team players together and the second session includes the third- and fourth-team players.
“We take the ones and twos and divide that practice into groups of 50 because that’s what the city says, that is the only number the city is allowing us to practice with,” Carey said. “I know the Eagles are practicing, but this is what the city told us.”
Graduate student Isaiah Graham-Mobley, a linebacker from Upper Merion whose season was cut short last year by an ankle injury, said he and his teammates are excited to be back.
“It feels wonderful, it is kind of like our own little oasis away from the chaos outside of our gates,” Graham Mobley said.
In the most interesting football note, Carey said the quarterback position has been extremely competitive. Graduate student Anthony Russo will likely be the starter for a third straight year.
The Owls also have redshirt sophomore Re-al Mitchell, a transfer from Iowa State who found out last week that he is immediately eligible. Carey said he has also been impressed with redshirt sophomore Trad Beatty.
“I think we have some really good competition going on right now at the quarterback position,” Carey said. “Not just with Re-al, but also Trad has looked really good and that competition is real competition.”
There is a difference between real competition and replacing Russo, who threw for 2,861 yards and 21 touchdowns last year.
“I have told Russo this, that he is still our quarterback,” Carey said. “Someone has to beat him out, but I mean there is good competition going on there right now so who knows where they take it and how they go with it.”