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Having ETSU athletes back on campus ‘safest thing for them’

Joe Avento • Jun 15, 2020 at 11:15 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Monday was the first day East Tennessee State student-athletes were allowed back on campus for voluntary workouts after spending the past few months working out wherever and however they could.

During the school’s Virtual Gametime Tour on Monday night, ETSU football coach Randy Sanders said getting the athletes back on campus, even in limited numbers, was the safest alternative.

“Obviously, their health and their safety’s number one today and that’s what our first concern is,” Sanders said.

He said he was happy to finally be able to open the weight room to his players and other ETSU athletes for the first time since early March.

“Then we can know what’s safe,” Sanders said. “We can know it’s a good environment to be working out in and you know you’re not sneaking in the back room of some gym somewhere that’s supposed to be locked up, that hasn’t been cleaned in two months, and you don’t really know who’s working out there.

“So bringing them back and having them on campus, to me just, it’s the safest thing for them. I wish we had 70 or 80 guys that were here in Johnson City right now that were able to do it. We have a decent number — not huge — but we have a decent number of guys.”

FUTURE OPPONENTS

ETSU revealed a few future football opponents Monday, announcing games at Mississippi State (2022), North Carolina (2026) and Liberty (2023 and 2025). The North Carolina game was supposed to be in 2022 but the Tar Heels asked to have it moved back.

ETSU is scheduled to play at Georgia this season.

Sanders said in addition to the athletic department making money, games against FBS teams are memorable for everyone connected with the program.

“I think it’s a great experience for our players and it’s fun for the fans,” he said. “It’s obviously a lot more fun when we’re competitive in the games, but it’s a good measuring stick for the guys to let them see exactly where they're at. It’s a great measuring stick for us as coaches to see what we need to work on, because when you play an opponent like Georgia this year or Vanderbilt last year, Appalachian State or North Carolina, Mississippi State, whatever your weaknesses are, they’ll get exposed.”

HEALTHY CADE

Cade Weldon, who was the odds-on favorite to be the Bucs’ starting quarterback last year after transferring from Miami, missed the season after undergoing shoulder surgery for an injury suffered in practice.

He’s back to full strength, but Sanders says having spring practice canceled was a blow to Weldon’s development.

“One of the things that we needed most in spring practice was to get Cade out there and get him back to playing,” Sanders said. “We needed to get Cade back on the field to see, number one, how healthy he was and to make sure he was healthy and ready to go. Number two, to see exactly where he was in understanding the offense, and number three, just to get him back out

there playing football and understanding that just because he got hurt one time didn’t mean he’s

going to get hurt again if he got hit.”

HOLDING OUT HOPE

With so much uncertainty surrounding college athletics because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sanders says he holds one hope for the fall.

“All I know is I hope we play college football because football is as American as it gets,” he said. “I know we’ve missed the NBA. We’ve missed Major League Baseball. We’ve missed a number of things, but you’ve got the PGA back playing now.

“Hopefully by August or September, we'll be able to get out there and play football and hopefully we’ll play a 12 -game schedule. If it ends up being 10 games or nine games or eight games, whatever it is, if it’s not a full schedule, it will not be quite the same. But I think we need football on the field and we need to get back to as close to normal as possible.”

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