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Maryland football returns to sense of normalcy with ‘a new focus’ after coronavirus outbreak

Like many of his teammates within the Maryland football program, Brian Cobbs was itching for something to distract him from a coronavirus-induced shutdown of all activities that began Nov. 11.

So at a team hotel and later in his apartment building, the junior wide receiver tried to stay active by knocking out some pushups and getting in some core work. He said others ran sprints in the hallways.

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The physical exertion paled in comparison with what players would usually gain from practice, but Cobbs was encouraged that he was not the only one trying to maintain a certain level of conditioning.

“Guys were finding different and creative ways to do things,” the 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver said Tuesday. “It was kind of one of the more exciting things to see, just the fact that guys weren’t getting down and just giving up all the preparation they put in to get to this point. So seeing guys do different things to keep their bodies in shape, that was pretty exciting.”

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Cobbs spoke one day after the Terps practiced for the first time since the university halted all football activities after eight players tested positive for COVID-19 over the previous seven days.

The suspension was increased when the school revealed last Thursday that an additional 15 players and seven staff members — including coach Mike Locksley — tested positive.

But Monday morning, the team announced that only one individual had tested positive since Nov. 19, but a subsequent polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test proved negative. And on Sunday, another round of testing showed that there were no new positives.

Maryland (2-1) is scheduled to meet No. 12 Indiana (4-1) on Saturday at noon, and Locksley liked what he saw from the team’s first practice in 12 days.

“These guys have really stayed sharp both mentally and physically,” he said. “With all the pauses and starts and stops that we’ve had, they’ve continued to be resilient in their efforts. Yesterday’s practice showed again why I feel good about the team that we have. As we continue through the growth phase of our program, to see those guys show back up yesterday with the right kind of mindset and attitude going into a great opportunity against Indiana shows that we’re making steps in progress as a program.”

Locksley was absent from Monday’s session as he continues his 10-day quarantine after self-reporting common cold-like symptoms to university health officials Nov. 16. He has been meeting with his staff and the players virtually and watching practice via livestream, communicating his instructions and wishes through a staff member.

“All the symptoms have been mild for the most part,” Locksley said. “Right now, I feel really strong. I feel normal. Maybe a little bit more fatigued, but that might be just from being stuck in the house in a room by myself. So I might be mentally wearing down more than physically.”

Whether the Terps will be at full strength is up in the air. According to Big Ten rules, players who test positive for the coronavirus cannot participate for at least 14 days from their initial tests so that they can undergo cardiac screenings. After gaining medical clearance, they must sit out another seven days so they can readjust to the rigors of the sport.

Locksley said he is uncertain how many of the 23 players who tested positive will be unavailable for Saturday’s game. But he said he is not concerned about playing short-handed.

“We’ve tried to develop this team knowing COVID would be an issue and the respect that we have for COVID in terms of its effect on the program,” he said. “So now we need these guys that maybe haven’t played major roles to step up and step into the next-man-up mentality that you’ve got to create. It’s no different from any other type of injury that you have. So we’re not a team that’s going to make excuses, and we’re not going to go in and say, ‘Woe is me’ because of certain guys that we don’t have. As a coaching staff, I can tell you that we’re going to put together the best plan we can possibly put together and put our players in the best possible positions to make plays in all three phases.”

How the outbreak began is unclear, but Dr. Yvette Rooks, assistant director of the University Health Center, had said on Thursday that contact tracing had identified three sources. Locksley defended his players from any accusations of impropriety.

“We do have kind of an idea of where it started, and it didn’t start from being negligent in behavior,” he said. “Obviously, any time you’re around people outside of our football team, parents, family members, people who come in for games, those are all areas where you can expose yourself. For the most part, our players have done everything asked of them. It’s tough to tell a kid not to go see his mom after a game if she’s in town and things of that nature. But we’ve worked really hard with all of the parents and people involved with our team to try to ensure and keep good social distancing and following all the protocols so that we don’t have what happened, happen.”

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Cobbs said the players understand they have been granted a second chance to finish an abbreviated season.

“Off the field, I was saying it’s a new focus because we know we can get shut down,” he said. “So it’s just being smart and taking care of the things necessary to allow us to play.”

Senior safety Antwaine Richardson said the players remain committed to each other and playing.

“Our team in general is just strong-minded with adversity,” he said. “We just keep fighting and staying together as one because once you start breaking apart, that’s when your team goes left.”

The Hoosiers suffered their first loss, 42-35, to No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday, but Maryland has not played a game since Nov. 7 when it routed Penn State, 35-19.

“Sometimes when you are young, they don’t realize that you need to play every week,” he said. “So I’m hoping that we can have youth serve us well so that they show up with the right kind of mentality that we’ve had, which I expect us to do. It’s up to us to build our own momentum. Each game has its own shelf life, and this was no different. We’ve got to do our part this week with the type of preparation that we’ve had.”

Cobbs predicted that morale would not be a problem.

“I don’t think we’ve lost confidence at all,” he said. “It’s something that we kind of signed up for, knowing that when we opt into the season, this could happen. So I’m very happy to see that when things do get shaken up, the young guys don’t flinch, and the older guys, we shouldn’t flinch, and we haven’t flinched.”

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MARYLAND@NO. 12 INDIANA

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Saturday, noon

TV: ESPN2 Radio: 105.7 FM

Line: Indiana by 12

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