SEATTLE — Washington head football coach Jimmy Lake compared the experience to riding a roller coaster, one that started plunging the moment the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of spring practice.
The lows lasted a while, for UW and the rest of the Pac-12. There was the postponement of fall camp followed by the elimination of the non-conference schedule. Some hope arrived at the end of July when the conference approved a 10-game, conference-only slate set to open on Sept. 26. But less than two weeks later, the Pac-12 decided to postpone all sports through the end of 2020.
For weeks, the only possibility of the roller coaster ascending was the distant chance of a spring season beginning in January. But then the Pac-12 entered into a partnership with Quidel Corp. to provide daily, point-of-care COVID-19 testing.
Last Thursday, the Pac-12 announced it would play a seven-game season beginning Nov. 6. The schedule has yet to be released.
“At this point of the roller coaster, we’re at the top right now,” UW first-year head coach Jimmy Lake said during a video call on Tuesday. “We are extremely excited to put all our schemes in. We’re out there practicing all together again. Right now, we are fired up that we get to play football and go play against an opponent here in about six weeks.”
The Huskies practiced for two and a half weeks after the conference decided on a postponement. The coaching staff then sent most of the true freshmen home — the veteran players continued to work out in UW’s facilities — and planned to bring them back shortly before the start of the fall quarter.
During that span, UW didn’t hold practices for about two and a half weeks. With the fall quarter starting Wednesday, every player arrived in Seattle by last Monday and went through a seven-day quarantine. The Huskies held their first two practices on Monday and Tuesday.
“We’re off and running,” Lake said, “getting ready for our 2020 season.”
The 2020 season doesn’t look much like Lake expected, but he’s relied on advice from his predecessor — former UW coach Chris Petersen — to help him navigate a particularly turbulent offseason.
“I think it was after our first year at Boise State,” Lake said. “He told (the coaches), he said, ‘When you’re a head coach, you’re a problem solver. That’s what you are. Every day, you’re solving problems.’ That really stuck with me.
“There’s no question, I think all of us have been solving problems during this pandemic. But that sticks with me every single day. My job is to problem-solve. If this isn’t working, we got to do this. If this isn’t working, we got to do this.”
One of the biggest challenges will be preparing his team to take the field in just six weeks without the benefit of spring practice. Add in a new offensive coordinator and a wide-open quarterback competition, and the Huskies might not be off that roller coaster just yet.
Despite the lack of full, on-the-field work, UW tight end Cade Otton said the offensive players have used this time to grow comfortable with first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan.
“I think everybody on the offense has been in their playbook, studying really hard,” Otton said. “In these first couple of days, it’s shown. We have a really good foundation of what we’re going to do and we’re executing really well in these first two days. I’m really impressed with our guys.”
And even though senior defensive back Elijah Molden understands the worry behind missing spring practice — he initially had some himself — he echoed Otton’s thoughts. While the Huskies’ physical work has been nontraditional, they’ve prepared in other ways.
“We had a lot of time sitting at home on our couches and that was when we dove into the playbook and had our meetings and got right mentally,” Molden said. “Yes, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be a new transition, but I think it’s going to be OK.”
The next step is getting the players prepared physically, which Lake said won’t be a problem for the more experienced members of the roster.
“We still have to get into football shape and be able to run football plays and be tired and then run football plays again after getting hit and be able to get back up,” Lake said. “That’s going to be the difference. In terms of training, (strength coach Tim) Socha and his staff have done an unbelievable job.
“Our true freshmen, we just got to see if those guys are ready to go physically. We don’t know that yet until we get the pads on and we start banging around a little bit. But that’s always the case any year not just in 2020. We’ll be able to figure out that out here as we open training camp in October.”