Just like in previous years, there will be lots of energy and expectations when the Florida Gators open preseason football camp Monday.
But this time, there will be some other, nagging emotions intruding.
Uncertainty and anxiety.
A whole bunch of uncertainty.
This is the COVID-19 world the Gators — and the rest of the SEC — find themselves in as they attempt to somehow find a way to have a football season this fall.
The Gators start preseason practice Monday. But how long will it last? A few days? A few weeks? Will they make it all the way to Sept. 26, and actually start playing football games on that set date? Or will it be sometime later, or not at all?
No one knows for sure.
But, in the meantime, the Gators are going to stay on schedule and follow the health protocol the SEC has given its 14 schools in the plan to play this season.
Preseason camp is the next step. And this camp will be different than all the others and will include weekly testing. Also, the traditional 25 practices will be spread out over a 40-day period leading up to game week and practice time will be limited to 20 hours a week, with the players getting two days off a week.
The first five days of camp will be an acclimatization period, with two days in helmets only, two days in shells and the fifth day in full pads.
The Gators were originally scheduled to open camp Aug. 7, but that was pushed back along with the start of the season from Sept. 5 to Sept. 26.
The question now is: can Florida — and the rest of the SEC — get through camp and make it to the start of the season?
One thing is certain, the UF players want to play. Multiple players expressed that on Twitter this past week, along with head coach Dan Mullen, who Tweeted the following: “I am so proud of our players. Their commitment to medical guidelines to stay safe has shown their resolve in preparing the right way for the season. They deserve to play this fall. They have worked so hard for this. Let’s fight for them and find a way. #WeWantToPlay.”
Wanting to play and getting to are two different things.
The plan right now is to play. That, of course, could change at any time.
But for now, the approach is to stay on schedule and see what happens.
Earlier this week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on Twitter that the conference has been patient and is doing the right things to have a chance to possibly play this fall.
“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new and you’ll gain better information every day,” he posted. “@SEC has been deliberate at each step since March. … slowed return to practice. … delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester. … developed testing protocols.
“We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so. … every day.”
For the Gators — and the rest of the SEC — this is going to be a day-to-day deal. And it starts with the opening of camp Monday.