The 2020-21 College Football season will go down in history as one of the most challenging seasons ever. Between continuously testing the players, maintaining negative COVID-19 tests, and managing the mental health of each player in the program. The USF Bulls, along with the rest of the NCAA, have a lot on their plate.
For more insight into the ongoing season, I spoke with Bulls Running Back Kelley Joiner, Jr., about the challenges brought on the football program this season. When asked about the continuous testing this season, Joiner said, “We test a couple times per week, honestly like 2-3 times. [We test] maybe 4 times for away games.”
Maintaining as many negative tests among the football team is a tough task to manage. College football players, who are 18-22-year-old college students, enjoy being normal students as well. Besides playing football and being the face of the university, student-athletes have personal lives similar to the average student. Student-athletes enjoy hanging out with friends, going to parties, being a part of clubs, and just having genuine fun.
Joiner added, “Now, people aren’t going out as much because of COVID-19. We try to stay distant from everyone and wear our masks. There’s a big difference [this semester]. I stay in my apartment and I don’t go anywhere.”
Not only do student-athletes have a life outside of the collegiate sport that they play, in this instance, there is a certain level of mental health and well-being that has to be maintained. Between the lack of a social life this semester and the cancelation of games (FAU), the football program has to manage each of its athletes to make sure they are mentally stable. With players coming to USF to play football from all over the country, it can be frustrating to hear about games being canceled.
Joiner expanded, “We just have to stay focused, keep our distance [from each other], and wear our masks. We can’t control what goes on in the outside world. We just have to stay focused and be ready for the next game.”
During his Senior year at South Lake High School (Groveland, Fla.), Joiner broke his fibula towards the end of an illustrious high school football career. After breaking his leg and enduring the rigorous rehab, Joiner had a decision to make: hang up his helmet and shoulder pads, or continue on the path to playing Division I football?
A discouraging injury can leave an athlete devastated, forcing them to have to persevere through it physically and mentally. Though COVID-19 is not an injury per se, the virus weakens an individual’s immune system and can result in death.
The same type of mental moxie plays a role.
South Florida football players have to work even harder in order to persevere through the struggles and setbacks that come with being a student-athlete during a global pandemic. Between having to maintain the starting Running Back position, which Joiner worked day and night to earn this off-season, and dealing with canceled practices and games, mental perseverance became key for the young Bull.
When asked about bouncing back from his injury Joiner candidly responded, “My injury [in high school] helped me mentally. In my Senior year of high school, I wanted to give up playing football; that’s what I told my mom at the hospital. I had never been hurt before that injury, and I really wanted to give up mentally. I worked and worked and pushed myself to get back. I stayed focused on what I was supposed to do and I tried to focus on the “bigger picture”. I try to forget about that injury, like it never happened.”
Up next, the Bulls will host the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday, October 10 at Raymond James Stadium with a scheduled kickoff at 7:00 PM in front of USF fans for the first time in 2020. If you can’t make it out, the game will also be broadcasted on ESPN+.
(This article was co-authored by SoFloBulls Owner Matt Manuri, who was also on the call with Kelley Joiner, Jr.)