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Maryland football returns to practice, ‘optimistic’ to play Saturday after players test negative for coronavirus

The Maryland football program returned to practice Monday afternoon in preparation for Saturday’s game at No. 12 Indiana at noon, the university announced.

The Terps practiced for the first time since Nov. 11 when all football activities were suspended after eight players had tested positive for the coronavirus over the previous seven days.

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After the game Nov. 14 at Maryland Stadium in College Park against then-No. 3 Ohio State was canceled, 15 more players and seven staff members tested positive. One of those staff members was head coach Mike Locksley, who said he began to experience common cold-like symptoms on Nov. 19 and self-reported those symptoms to Dr. Yvette Rooks, assistant director at the University Health Center. Last Saturday’s game against Michigan State was also canceled.

On Monday, the school announced that only one individual had tested positive for COVID-19 since Nov. 19, but a subsequent polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test was negative. On Sunday, every player was tested with no positive results.

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“The last two weeks have been trying for everyone associated with our football program, but I am proud of the resiliency and positive outlook Coach Locksley and our team has had,” athletic director Damon Evans said in a statement. “The team went through weight training this morning and will practice this afternoon. We are optimistic that we will be able to play this Saturday at Indiana. As we have done throughout, we will continue daily testing, monitor those results and base all decisions upon those results.”

Evans also said Locksley’s health is improving and that he will be on the sideline when Maryland (2-1) meets the Hoosiers (4-1), who suffered its first loss of the season Saturday at Ohio State, 42-35.

“Coach Locks and I have stayed in constant communication and he’s feeling good,” Evans said. “He is expected to take part in this week’s practices in a virtual fashion, then travel with the team to Indiana on Friday and coach the Terrapins this Saturday.”

The Terps are the second Big Ten program to lose two games to the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin was forced to cancel games against Nebraska on Oct. 31 and Purdue on Nov. 7 after 30 members — 17 players and 13 staff — had tested positive since Oct. 21. But after a dramatic reduction, the team was allowed to return to the field and defeated Michigan, 49-11, on Nov. 14 and lost to Northwestern, 17-7, on Saturday.

On Thursday, Rooks had said there was an improvement in case numbers from that morning and that she could envision the players being able to participate in a conditioning or exercise session during the weekend if that trend continued. A team spokesperson did not know if any players had taken part in any team-organized regimen over the weekend.

Per Big Ten conference protocols, players who tested positive for the coronavirus must sit out at least 14 days from their original tests to get screened for any cardiac complications from the virus. Once they are cleared, they are required to wait another seven days so that they can practice and condition and re-acclimate their bodies to the rigors of the sport.

Both Evans and Locksley said the players and coaches are committed to returning to attempt to complete a six-game schedule, which would keep the team eligible for consideration for the Big Ten championship game Dec. 19.

“Make no mistake about it, it has been a challenge for our student-athletes, the staff, Coach Locksley, all of those concerned,” Evans said. “But I do believe that we have good medical people in place that are taking care of our student-athletes. … I think the protocol that we have in place for return-to-play is appropriate, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation. As I’ve always said, it’s day-to-day.”

Locksley said the team would probably need only two practices — either on separate days or two in one day — to be prepared physically to play a game as long as the players’ conditioning levels are sufficient.

“If we can get back sooner rather than later, we feel very comfortable that with the science that we use to have our team prepared from a physical standpoint,” he said Thursday. “The football piece is kind of the easy piece for these guys. A lot of it is mental, and we get to the end of our season, we do less contact anyway. It’s more the physical conditioning piece that we need to monitor. I look forward to finding out when we can return and get our guys back out to get them into the type of shape we need to finish the season.”

Locksley and a few players will address the media Tuesday beginning at noon.

MARYLAND@NO. 12 INDIANA

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Saturday, noon

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 105.7 FM

Line: Indiana by 14

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