In a teleconference this week, Jimmy Lake was asked bluntly if he has considered the possibility that the Washington Huskies might not play football in 2020.
That would mean, of course, no season opener against Michigan inside Husky Stadium on Sept. 5. No Pac-12 opener against Oregon in Eugene on Oct. 3. No Apple Cup, pitting Lake against first-year Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich, in Pullman on Nov. 27. No quarterback competition. No Richard Newton. No Elijah Molden. No Levi Onwuzurike or Trent McDuffie or Puka Nacua.
For many UW football fans, Lake included, that remains a virtually unfathomable outcome.
“I have not (considered that),” said Lake, UW’s first-year head coach. “I am the ultimate optimist. I’m always keeping things positive. The way I look at this right now, in my mind, sometime in early June or middle of June, we’re going to get back to being all together here and start practicing and getting back to some normalcy. But that’s just how my mind works, and I’m not a doctor. I’m not a professional.
“Obviously if we’re under the same conditions we are right now leading up into August, then maybe I would share the concerned views that you pointed out. But at this point I think we’re going to have a season and it’s going to be a memorable one, because everybody’s going to be ready for some football.”
Lake won’t even declare that spring practice has been “canceled.” Washington’s first of 15 spring practices was originally slated for Wednesday, before the COVID-19 outbreak forced significant scheduling alterations. The University of Washington, for example, has canceled — there’s that word again — all athletic-related activities and events, including workouts, training and practices, as well as the football program’s pro day and spring game, through the end of the spring quarter on June 5. Likewise, the Pac-12 suspended all organized team activities until at least May 31.
But Lake is holding out hope that UW’s 15 spring practices could happen eventually — even if it’s not technically in the spring.
“In my mind, spring practice is not over yet,” he said. “We obviously have to see what’s going to happen here down the road, but if everything does get back to normal here in let’s say a month and a half, two months, we’re planning on having our 15 spring practices. If this thing gets all the way to training camp obviously we wouldn’t be able to do anything like that and we’d just have to have training camp with the rest of the FBS and FCS. But to really answer your question, I’m still very hopeful.”
Until then, Lake and Co. must make the best of their new normal. As UW’s students take the entirety of their spring classes remotely, rules have been put in place for how rigorously coaches can communicate with their players. On Monday, the Pac-12 instructed that “virtual group activities, including film study, are permitted to two hours per week for football,” though the conference is appealing to the NCAA to increase that two-hour limit. Strength and conditioning coaches are also allowed to recommend “written, self-directed workout plans, and taped demonstration videos on workout plans are allowed in order to demonstrate proper form and technique.”
Lake noted that this also includes early enrollees quarterback Ethan Garbers, tight ends Mark Redman and Mason West and offensive lineman Geirean Hatchett — who enrolled in the spring quarter, as scheduled, despite never actually leaving home.
“Really one of our things right now throughout our whole team is that we’re not going to make any excuses,” Lake said. “At this point, the best thing that (the early enrollees) can do is in the mornings, get their workouts in. And then in the afternoons, dial in on their academics. If they stay on top of our installs, on top of what we’re putting in schematically, and then in the afternoons really be dialed in with their academics, those four young men — but really our whole team — is going to come out a lot stronger through this.
“Because this is going to take an extreme amount of accountability for everybody to do this on their own remotely.”
That also includes the coaches, who are working remotely and dividing their days into two factions — football in the morning, and recruiting in the afternoon.
But how, exactly, are said coaches going about instructing 85 scholarship athletes spread across the west coast?
“What we typically would do is always start by position, in smaller groups (in zoom video meetings),” Lake explained. “So those guys are hearing their specific details in their room. It’s like the offseason again — January through March — where we’re focused on technique, on our keys and our reads, our base installs, things that our players that have been here have heard in the last three months.
“Now we’re making sure those coaching points remain in their system — in their brains — so when we do come out of this, we can be ready to be going on all cylinders.”
Of course, this isn’t an ideal setting for first-year UW offensive coordinator John Donovan to install a new offense, either. But Lake did say that Donovan got a jump start during the winter months.
“Thankfully, January through the middle of March we had some really good meetings, some good initial installs with our new offense,” Lake said. “You could just feel the energy and the excitement that our offensive players have for this new system. It’s a pro-style system. I think it’s going to be easier for a younger player to come right in and play right away, the way the system is laid out. I think it makes sense. The guys are just very excited about learning a pro-style offense. The only thing we’re missing right now is competition against somebody else.”
But when will that competition come?
Should spring practices never happen, Lake was also asked if a typical training camp would be sufficient to prepare his team for a full season in the fall.
And, no surprise: his answer was optimistic.
“If we started training camp the way we normally start training camp, I think that almost 30 days (of preparations) is going to be good enough and we can keep the schedule exactly the way it is,” he said. “We are constantly trying to keep our team healthy throughout that 30 days of training camp. Every practice is crucial, but I think 30 days will be enough.
“I think back to the old days when football wasn’t 12 months a year. People used to show up to training camp and you used to get in shape in the first two weeks, and then the next two weeks you were kind of getting dialed in on the scheme and then the season began. That’s how it used to be.
“As long as everybody in the country is on the same schedule, if we start on Aug. 5, then it is what it is. Now it’s going to be, which coaches are very clever in how they get their team prepared in those 30 days?”