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College Sports

Cal Poly athletics return to practice with strict new safety measures in place

Cal Poly football practice
Cal Poly football team holds practice Tuesday morning at Doerr Family Field. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- The Cal Poly football team was on the practice field Tuesday morning, which in any other year wouldn't be a big deal.

But with COVID-19 wreaking havoc for most of 2020, it was a significant moment in program history.

It marked the first full-fledged practice for the new look team under the guidance of first-year head coach Beau Baldwin.

"To be at this point, it's exciting, but like I was telling them though, it's one of many," said Baldwin, who was hired Dec. 11. "To be out here and get some of that eye contact with all of them consistently for more than hour, hour and half period, is what you put all the work for."

Prior to Tuesday, the football team, along with all other Cal Poly programs had been limited in their activities.

According the university, since January coaches and players have held Zoom meetings, voluntary workouts, practices with pods of 10 players or less, walk-throughs, film sessions, off-campus lifting plans, position group meetings.

"Being out here finally is just so much fun getting to see all the guys that you've grown up with through the program with this coaching staff and the excitement that we brought to the first day and hopefully to carry through the rest of the reason, it's exciting to be a part of it," said senior linebacker Matt Shotwell.

While players, coaches and staff were thrilled to be on the practice field, it was anything but business as usual.

Just like with everything else, the pandemic has dramatically altered how the athletic department operates.

"We're doing things completely differently than what we have in the past," said Athletic Director Don Oberhelman. "The overall cleanliness to begin with. The constant masking. The constant social distancing, and we have student-athletes in pods. You put them in groups of 10 or 15, and that's their pod, that's their work group. That's who they lift weights with. That's who they go to the training room with. That's who they practice with everyday and hopefully it can help minimize any outbreaks that might be able to happen."

Oberhelman said safety measures have been put into place under constant guidance and support from San Luis Obispo County Public Health, as well as the NCAA, and it's conference offices, including the Big West and Big Sky conferences.

Student-athletes said they are keenly aware they need to be extremely proactive in how they conduct themselves during team activities, and especially away from them.

"You just have to hold yourself accountable and to make sure that you're making smart decisions because we can't monitor every single person," said Shotwell."We want to play football, that's our goal so let's try and stay as healthy for the team as possible. We're doing the right protocols I think and doing the right things off the field to keep us in the best situation and keep playing and keep progressing towards our goals."

The first Cal Poly athletic teams to return to competition will be the men's and women's basketball teams, which will start playing in late November.

The football team is slated to begin its season likely on Feb. 27.

It is currently unknown if and when fans would be allowed to attend games.

"Certainly right now that's not something that would be acceptable, but come January, February, March, it's hard to determine what position we might be in as a county and what their viewpoint for fan attendance might be," said Oberhelman. "We're comfortable right now proceeding with no fans being permitted at any of our events."

Should fans be restricted from attending games, Oberhelman said the university is working on ways to make sure fans can catch the action.

"We'll have avenues for all of our fans to be able to at least log in and watch them on smart TVs and things like that where they can watch our teams compete," said Oberhelman.

California / Outdoors / San Luis Obispo County / Sports

Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.

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