Football: Napier has a coronavirus message for the Cajuns
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 19, 2020
Be safe. Be smart. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
That was the essential message from UL football coach Billy Napier, reacting to the cancellation of spring practice due to the deadly and rapidly spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when he sent his Ragin’ Cajuns their packing earlier this week.
“We tried to educate the players in terms of material on what they can do, the best practices for them,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday.
“Certainly we’re trying to make them understand they have a role in defeating the virus, and they can contribute at the community — whether that’s locally here in Acadiana or that’s back in their hometown where they’re headed. We spent a lot of time on that.
“I think the most important thing is the safety of everyone involved,” Napier added, “and then really accepting the challenge that everybody can contribute.”
That means maintaining social distance, self-isolating and even self-quarantining when needed.
It also means not being unnecessarily out and about, not gathering as groups and most certainly not treating spring break as if there were any other year.
“The big thing for us … (is) we’ve got to have urgency about our role in contributing at the community level,” Napier said, “and what we can do daily – making good decisions for the healthy and safety of the individuals involved, but also family members and community (members).
“I think the choices you make today ultimately are going to affect tomorrow, and right now this is one of those deals where everybody can contribute at making progress here as we try to defeat this virus.”
Napier said that as of Thursday the Cajuns were in “good shape” as far as “staff, staff family, player, player family (and) everyone involved” were concerned.
Lockers were cleaned out Monday, and players were addressed about their academic, physical training and even civic responsibilities in small groups before leaving Tuesday and beginning on-line coursework Wednesday.
Related: UL Lafayette going to remote classes
Napier said about 65 percent of his players went to their respective homes elsewhere and many of the rest are living and operating out their apartments or accommodations locally.
Many of UL’s players are from nearby areas including Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and the northern part of Louisiana.
The gravity of the situation hit Napier hard as recent days unfolded and “it’s become more of a reality, almost surreal at times.”
“When you’re standing in front of your team and you’re sending them on their way, and you basically have to come up with a plan for the next six weeks or so independent of their normal routine,” he said, “I think that’s when it becomes a reality.”
The Cajuns – 11-3 last season with a LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio) – quickly went opening spring drills earlier this month to not practicing last Saturday to having all activities including even in-facility weight training workouts canceled by the Sun Belt Conference on Monday.
“It’s a very fluid situation,” said Napier, whose Cajuns lost 12 of their planned 15 spring practices to the situation.
“I think every day I’ve tried to base all my options and decisions off of facts, you know? So I’ve been trying to stay in-tune to the information.”
For Napier, that means following the news.
“I think our federal government is doing a good job of updating us daily on where we’re at, the issues that we have,” he said.
“I think that that trickles down, right? So you see decisions made at the state level, and then certainly at the community level, and then you get into university policies, conference, office decisions.”
As for impact on the 2020 season to come, which for the Cajuns currently is scheduled to start Sept. 5 against McNeese, that is far from the forefront of Napier’s mind.
Ditto for how preseason camp might go in August, summer workouts will be handled in June and July and if any of the missed spring drills can be made up.
“I think there’s a timeline element that maybe we don’t have control over,” he said.
“So I think that right now you’re seeing more of an initiative from the (Sun Belt) Conference and the NCAA level to educate everyone involved on how they can help flatten the curve (of coronavirus cases) and how they can help defeat the virus. That’s the most important element.
“I do think our administration, federally, state level, community level – they’ve done a good job,” Napier added, “of daily keeping us up to speed about the problems that we have, the plans for improvement, where we’re headed and a little bit of a reality check in terms of how we’re going to operate.”