When the University of Hawaii football team had its 2020 season postponed on Aug. 10 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not many were sure when the Rainbow Warriors would be able to take the field again.
Following the Mountain West Conference’s announcement to have an eight-game season, which starts on the weekend of Oct. 24 for its 12 teams, the answer to that question came sooner than many expected.
Despite the current travel restrictions to Hawaii, decision makers at UH intend to have the ‘Bows take the field in less than a month. After the presidents of every Mountain West school came to a consensus to hold a fall 2020 season, the conference decided to follow in the footsteps of the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences in returning to the gridiron this fall.
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To UH athletics director David Matlin, the biggest factor in the conference’s return to fall football is testing.
“I think the biggest thing was our testing and our COVID testing plan,” Matlin told the media in a Friday conference call. “That was the difference maker which has been a big difference. We have rapid testing now and we also have a solid plan in all of our other protocols.”
The Mountain West has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to provide the rapid antigen testing, which will mostly be done with a nasal antigen swab. The Mountain West will fund COVID-19 testing for all 12 school via its reserve fund, which Matlin calls a “game-changer.”
“Without that, it would have been really tough for us to do,” Matlin said of the funded tests. “That’s just the economic reality.”
UH president David Lassner is doing a lot of the “heavy lifting” as it as it pertains to communicating with Hawaii Governor David Ige, according to Matlin.
If Rainbow Warriors do in fact take the field on Oct. 24, it will mark their first game in exactly 10 months. The most recent game for the program took place on Christmas Eve, back when Nick Rolovich was still at the helm in Manoa.
New head coach Todd Graham says the team has continued to train from a social distance during the pandemic and will be ready for competition.
“Obviously our guys were really excited to get an opportunity to compete and play,” Graham said of the Mountain West’s announcement. “Our coaching staff, I know our fans, everyone’s excited about the opportunity to play football. We’ve been lifting and running and really working on conditioning and preparing. We actually had more time to lift than we normally have. We’re gonna have a regular camp with the ramp-up that we normally have, our acclimation period and all that. But our guys were extremely and we had a very, very positive day today as our first practice. We had a one-hour practice and now a two-hour practice so our guys are excited and ready to go and we can’t wait until Oct. 24 and obviously we got a lot of work to do, just as everybody else does.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity and obviously we’ll keep our guys safe and that’s first and foremost but we’re excited about the opportunity to move forward and an opportunity to compete for a Mountain West championship.”
Graham noted that the 29 days the Rainbow Warriors have to train ahead of a potential opener is similar in length to a fall camp. The plan for now is to have a five-day acclimation period, with padded practices starting next Wednesday. He also said it’s important for him and his new coaching staff to teach new concepts to the team in an efficient manner since perhaps the biggest obstacle in adapting to the season will be the time constraints.
“Obviously, it’s a unique situation but I think we’re well-prepared and communication is the key,” Graham said.
“As a football coach, you always want more practice. Then from a competitive standpoint, it’s a challenge. But first and foremost, I can guarantee our team, which includes our medical team, our coaching staff, trainers, equipment staff, everybody here, our administration, we’re never gonna put kids in harm’s way and we’re gonna make sure we take care of them. So no doubt in my mind it’s enough time to play the game and play it safely. And that doesn’t mean everybody’s gonna be ready.”