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Temple football players improvised by working around the pandemic

Players had to create makeshift workout areas, but the leaders of the team made sure that everybody was still doing their drills.

Temple linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley ran to the top of the steps of the Art Museum for offseason workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Temple linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley ran to the top of the steps of the Art Museum for offseason workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Temple linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley ran to the top of the steps of the Art Museum. But unlike Philly’s favorite fictional character, Rocky Balboa, there was no celebration, no lifting of the arms. Just satisfaction that another part of the redshirt senior’s makeshift workout was completed.

Like his teammates, Graham-Mobley had to improvise during the coronavirus pandemic. But the players did what they had to do to keep in shape, stay in touch, and make sure that the team stayed together while physically distanced. .

For graduate school offensive lineman Vincent Picozzi and his brother Nick, a redshirt sophomore tight end, weightlifting sessions never stopped, even if they were conducted in a barn.

The brothers, both graduates of Lansdale Catholic High School, were back at their family home in Collegeville, Pa., where they have three acres to run sprints before entering the barn to do some serious lifting.

“We have a mini gym in the barn, a squat machine, and our bench, literally in a barn,” said Vincent Picozzi, who has made 28 career starts for the Owls.

It wasn’t quite Temple’s expansive weightlifting setup.

“We might not have had the tools that we were used to utilizing, but we figured a way and made it work,” Vincent Picozzi said.

Adjusting to the pandemic

Temple and probably most, if not all, college football teams stuck together during the pandemic. Like virtually all segments of society, the Owls used Zoom to keep in contact with their coaches and teammates, but there was more than that.

While it hasn’t been easy to deal with the pandemic, it helped that the players were there for each other when frustration set in.

“If anybody was feeling down there was always somebody to contact,” said Graham-Mobley, who figures to be among the better linebackers in the American Athletic Conference. “It was a big help going through it with so many teammates. At first it feels you’re in it by yourself, but then you gain perspective and realize you are not in this alone.”

The team’s leadership council, made up of veteran players, also helped.

“We make sure we are holding our position groups accountable,” said Graham-Mobley, a member of the council.

In other words, they would make sure that the players were still working out, focused on improving as football players even when it was easy for their concentration to drift.

One of the things that Graham-Mobley did was send video clips of his working out to his teammates as a way of motivating them.

But when the pandemic first hit, he also had to motivate himself.

“In the beginning, keeping each other motivated was the hardest part,” Graham-Mobley said. “There were a couple of times when the pandemic started that I would wake up at noon, not work out until about 6 o’clock at night.”

That didn’t last long. He realized that before he could hold his teammates accountable, he had to do so for himself.

Graham-Mobley was rehabbing from a season-ending ankle injury that forced him to have surgery Oct. 31. When the pandemic began, he was still able to go to rehabilitation. But after a few weeks, he was working out on his own.

Thus the Art Museum.

At first it was difficult to find a field that was open on which to work out. A field near the Art Museum suited his needs. He went there with a few teammates.

“A lot of people were using it as a dog park, so we tried to get up early to try to use the area before the dogs came,” he said.

With the Art Museum so close to the field, he decided to do the steps. Three days a week he ran up the steps, a grueling workout for most mortals.

“It really wasn’t too bad,” he said.

So when he would reach the top of the steps, there was no Rocky-like celebration.

“No, I didn’t show off,” he said. “It was just part of my workout.”

The pandemic made it much more difficult for Re-al Mitchell to get to his next destination.

A redshirt sophomore quarterback, Mitchell was in the process of transferring from Iowa State. He made the decision in January to enter the transfer portal. Just as the pandemic hit, he was supposed to make a visit to Temple, on the second weekend in March.

“I would have loved to have visited Temple,” he said.

Mitchell still sent film of himself to Temple and other schools.

Although his visit was canceled, he made the decision to transfer in late May.

Still, he never actually got to Temple until July. Until then he stayed around the campus at Iowa State.

“A lot of people went home with the whole coronavirus thing,” he said. “So some guys were still around, and there were some old teammates to catch [footballs].”

That is how he prepared for Temple, throwing to former teammates until he was able to travel to Philadelphia.

“I was doing what I could, when I could, and just trying to stay healthy,” he said.

While the players are now going through training camp, they do so with the understanding that they were able to make the most of an offseason that nobody could have foreseen. It also gave them a greater appreciation of being involved in the Temple football program.

“The last couple of months not seeing each other, we really grew to appreciate being around each other, and it’s something we don’t take for granted,” Vincent Picozzi said. “When we got back and realized how much impact our teammates had on our daily lives, you just really appreciate being around them.”