BYU men’s basketball sophomore guard Trevin Knell said the best part of Monday was stepping into the Marriott Center Annex for the first time in nearly three months.
“Coming in on Monday for the first time, I just started clapping and got super-excited,” Knell said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The best moment was just walking through the door, seeing that Y on the floor. It’s a privilege we have to be in our own facility. I took it for granted last year. It felt like a dream and it still does, but I also feel like I belong here. This is the place we call home. I know this is the time we get to prepare for the season. We have a lot to prove, so it all starts here.”
Cougar football junior running back Lopini Katoa said he also loved getting back to work.
“It was nice to finally have a step forward,” Katoa said in a conference call Tuesday. “It’s been an unknown for so long, so it was nice to go back and be with the boys — although it wasn’t with everyone. It was just with small groups.”
Monday marked the first day athletes at universities were able to return for voluntary workouts since everything was closed in mid-March as part of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
BYU associate athletic director over communications Duff Tittle explained that the university is using a phased approach. He said the Cougar football team as well as the men’s and women’s basketball team can start workouts this week, while other sports will return to work in the next couple of weeks.
Katoa and Knell both said they found out last week that they would finally be able to return to the workout facilities.
“We found out a week ago when Coach Pope did a Zoom call,” Knell said. “He said, ‘guys, I’ve got big news.’ He told us and we all started cheering. It’s great to have everyone back and see some of the new faces we have.”
Katoa said: “We got the message from (BYU director of athletics) Tom Holmoe that we could come back and it was so cool.”
For his part, Katoa said he was taking it all in as he got to work on Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s been different, that’s for sure,” Katoa said. “The feeling you get when you are training with your teammates is different than what we have been doing on our own. You’re there with your boys, pushing each other, and it’s great being around members of the team again.”
BYU has changed how the facilities are used to be in compliance with health regulations.
“They check our temperature and we all wear masks when we come in,” Knell said. “There are about five or six hand sanitizer stations. We have to wash our hands, then wipe everything down whenever we use stuff. It’s definitely a safe environment.”
Katoa said there was approximately 20 guys in his workout group and said the athletic trainers are making sure no one has symptoms.
“We aren’t able to linger in the building,” Katoa said. “We are in and out. We also have a lot of people who clean and sanitize the weight room immediately after we use the weights. It’s different but there is so much to be grateful for.”
The Cougar football players are working with the strength coaches right now, just “running and lifting,” according to Katoa.
The athletes have had it emphasized that these workouts are voluntary. Knell said that Pope had a message for anyone who didn’t feel comfortable risking their health at this point in the pandemic.
“We all talked about it as a team,” Knell said. “The players took a vote. But these are voluntary, so if anyone is feeling nervous about coming in to get in some work, the coaches have said it is up to us. Coach Pope told us he wants us to feel safe and secure. He said anyone who isn’t ready to come back should stay home and take care of family or whatever they need to.”
Knell said the basketball team sees this step as a “huge blessing.”
“We’ve been Facetiming and doing home workouts, but there is nothing like getting back into a gym,” Knell said. “The attitude now is something special.”
Both Knell and Katoa recognize that there are a lot of unknowns right now about the future of college sports.
“Those things go through everyone’s mind but we can’t focus on all the ifs,” Knell said. “We can only focus on what we can control. We can control getting in the gym. We can control our own safety with wiping everything down and taking care of ourselves. But we’re excited for this season and expect to be able to return and give Cougar fans a show this year.”
Football is more immediate than basketball, with fall camp set to start in about two months.
“I’m just getting used to expecting the unexpected with everything going on right now,” Katoa said. “We just have to take it for what it is right now and know that nothing is guaranteed. Whatever the season will be, we will be ready as much as we can.”
Katoa has heard the talk about potentially not having fans at games and that has been something that has been hard for him to wrap his head around.
“It would be tough,” Katoa said. “It would be so weird because the fans bring so much energy. The adrenaline that it gives you just to run on the field, it would be not the same to not have that.”
He added that he’s optimistic and feels that “getting back into the facilities is a really good sign.”