Major college athletes rarely go home. Aside from a few weeks during the summer, and a short break or two during the academic year, they’re on campus, training and competing.
But since the coronavirus pandemic began in the middle of March, they have lived a different reality in quarantine: classes and team meetings online, rehab and workouts at home or in private gyms, extra family time but also the challenges that come with it. Some dealt with transfers, injuries or financial challenges. Others used the time for reflection, self-improvement and personal projects. They’ve thought a lot about COVID-19 and how the virus will impact their lives and athletic careers.
Coaches, commissioners and athletic directors have dominated the discussions around college sports for the past few months. The players, meanwhile, have been mostly quiet during quarantine. ESPN reached out to college football and basketball players around the country to ask about their experiences. These are their stories, in their own words.
Editor’s note: The majority of these vignettes were written while the players were in quarantine, from mid-March to late May. Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, whose name was part of a controversy surrounding the Seminoles’ football program last week, was given the opportunity to update his contribution following that news.
Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State football
We had our last practice before spring break, and I had plans to go back home. But that’s when things got shut down. I was skeptical about going anywhere. I’m from Houston, so I was going to have to go through two to three airports to get back home or take that nine-hour-long drive. I was nervous about taking that drive and being exposed to the virus, so I decided to make a smart decision for myself and stay in Tallahassee [Florida].
A bunch of us decided to stay. I live in an apartment, and all my roommates are here. One of our teammates has two racks at his crib with some weights and bands, that’s where we get our lifts in. We go over to his house, and we practice our social distancing. So we get different groups together and we rotate our groups. Sometimes we do field work together. We take some cones and some bags and go work some field drills. There’s a sand pit where our apartment complex is, so we get in the sand and start working on quick feet. We’re finding different ways to get that work in to keep creating that edge so when we’re able to come back and play football, we’ll be ready.
FSU DT Marvin Wilson addresses locker room concerns, then demands that athletes from all sports not only speak up but act on their words.
I had a couple of online classes before, but now all my classes are online, so it’s knowing how to work around your schedule. If I have class at 12 and most of my tutoring is at 4 or 5, I’ll go work out in the morning before my class at 12 or right after my class, come back, shower and be right at my desk ready to do my tutoring session and then go back out and get another workout in, a late-night session with the guys.
I get to see what I’m made of, not having the same resources. It really takes you back to high school. I built great habits in high school being able to work out and not having a weight room so stuff like this I’m used to doing.
I’m going to try to stay in Tallahassee for the duration of this. I talk to my mom almost every day, and she understands I’m out here working, trying to provide for my family. It’s been very hard, I’m not going to lie. You do get homesick. I don’t care how old you get, you’re always going to miss home, you’re always going to miss mom. It does get tough at times not being able to be physically with them or talk to them, but some things you have to sacrifice to be successful.
One thing I’ve been doing since my freshman year, I write on my wall. I write a lot of words everywhere, and I surround myself with good thoughts and positive thinking and reminding myself where I come from, the tough times I’ve already been through, and this too shall pass. It’s been a grind, but I’m trying to take myself to a better level of thinking.
My teammates, they trust me to lead, both on and off the field. George Floyd and all these protests had a huge impact on me. I always wanted to help build better communities for our younger generation to come through. I watched my mom do that as a social worker in schools in Houston. She is such an inspiration in our community. As a black man trying to be a better man all around, on the field and outside the field, it just took me to a place where now I have a chance to make an impact.
I went public last week because I felt like it’s the most effective way for us as a team to come together as one and we really did. We banded together, we bonded, and I feel like we got closer not only as a team but as a program, and it’s going to be beneficial for us going forward. — As told to Andrea Adelson
My dad had taken another job a few months before all this happened as the coach at Central-Phenix City High School, about 2½ hours from our home in Birmingham. We were still living in Birmingham at the time everything shut down, but when then they told us we were going to be out of school for a while, my family decided to make the move to Phenix City. So I guess you could say we had a different transition. It was an in-state move, so it wasn’t too bad. We got moved in, and from then on, we’ve been settling into the new house and unpacking. The good thing is my family went from being 2 hours, 15 minutes away from Auburn to about 30 minutes.
Other than that, I’ve been at home doing in-home workouts and throwing with my little brother, Caleb. He’s going to be a junior in high school, so he’s in the same boat I am, both getting ready for a season. We go out there and do some quarterback-specific drills, footwork drills. It’s hard to throw at a moving target without receivers, but we can still incorporate moving targets with the catchers we have out there. I’ll catch for him, he’ll catch for me. It’s a great way to spend time with him.
My dad was a quarterback in college, so he knows everything there is to know about playing quarterback. He’s our trainer, and we go out there with him and he coaches us up. Having your dad coach you is another thing in itself. It’s really difficult because he expects so much more out of you than all the other players. After high school, you thought you would have different coaches and you wouldn’t be able to train with him. But at the end of the day, it’s always fun getting back and hearing his voice again, telling me the same things he’s always told me but things I’ve got to work on and improve to be the best I can be.
We didn’t get any spring practice in and that can go both ways. We lost a lot of seniors last year, so spring practice was going to be great for our guys, but at the same time I think because it wasn’t just us, it equaled out the playing field around the country so everyone had to adapt and overcome the situation. — As told to Andrea Adelson
Berdale Robins, CB, Nevada football
We had just taken off for spring break, and then the next day they emailed us and said that they were shutting down the campus for the next semester. We were getting ready to start spring ball once we came back. It’s been kind of bittersweet. I miss the team and being in Reno, but on the sweet side, you get a lot of family time that you don’t usually get.
I’m in South Central L.A., the Crenshaw district. My day starts with a Zoom meeting with my team, just a lot of Zoom classes or meetings with academic advisors. I’m working out in my front yard. It’s been slow, but I can’t complain. There’s a lot of kids on my team from L.A., so I see them frequently. We work out together still.
Our stipends are set up to the prices in Nevada. So I’m out in L.A., trying to pay rent and provide for my family out here, so it’s been hard. I’m pretty sure that’s a lot of people right now around the country. We were getting about two meals a day from the school. Now I have to find my own source. It makes you more aware of what’s going on.
The academics were a lot to take in. When I’m trying to learn, I’m not really an electronics guy. If I can get an eBook or the actual, physical book, I’ll get the physical book. So it was difficult keeping up with everything. I was enrolled in six classes and ended up passing all my classes.
Growing up in L.A., you see a lot of homelessness, so that’s something I always wanted to do, pass out meals to them. When I come here, I’m usually here for no more than a week, you just want to be with your family, but I figured that because we could be here till the summer, I could start giving back to them as much as possible.
The first time we did it was March 30. I did it by myself, and my family members helped me pack up all the food. We were able to give around 60 meals. I started off in the Crenshaw district. After that, we went straight downtown to this place, they call it Skid Row. That’s where a lot of the homeless people in L.A. are stationed.
It’s a humbling experience, just grateful to help out. One man told me, ‘It seems like we’re always forgotten about, but since the virus happened, it’s gotten even worse.’ He said he really appreciates us that we’re thinking about them during this time.
The second time, I got together with a lot of people, a few of my teammates, Kaymen Cureton and Malik Henry, and Martin Andrus from UCLA football, my family members, we all just pitched in and started helping out. We went back to downtown L.A. and had about 200 meals that time. We ran out of meals within like five minutes.
It’s amazing, just to come together and do something positive. I know L.A. is known for a lot of crazy things, so for us to get together and do something positive like that, it means a lot. — As told to Adam Rittenberg
McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF football
About five times a week, I’m going into our facility, doing rehab (Milton suffered a serious leg injury in November 2018) and working out with one of our strength coaches, David Young, along with four other guys who had knee reconstruction. Then on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we find some random parks around Orlando and I throw routes with a few former teammates and guys on the team.
Every time we’re in there for rehab, we have to wear masks and take our temperature, wash our hands for 30 seconds and stay 6 feet away from each other and not touch other things that someone else has touched without wiping it down.
When I’m in there, I’ve been doing squats with weights, high knee runs, lateral work, a lot of dynamic athletic stuff in there, single leg jumps, leg press, and then obviously getting a lot of hands-on work like massage. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% full go, but it’s probably 80, 85% of what I’m able to do.
I’m able to run. In football you’re not necessarily running or jogging, it’s more explosiveness and sprints and putting a lot of force into the ground. So I’m trying to mimic those running patterns so when I do start full sprinting, it looks smooth and the form is down pat instead of going out and running when I haven’t run for a little over a year.
Honestly, I’m not too sure yet whether I can play this year. I go see my surgeon at the end of June, and I’m hoping to possibly get cleared then.
Staying at home, I feel like it’s a good thing and a bad thing. As student-athletes, we don’t ever get this time to hang out with our families or have this kind of down time or time to yourself. In a way that’s been good, to have a little down time, pick up some hobbies, play some more video games and yet you can get in the same amount of work. You just have to be accountable to yourself and expect your teammates are doing the same thing.
I’m not trying to downplay what’s happening, but people are losing jobs, more and more programs will keep getting cut if football doesn’t happen. Football is something that needs to happen for this country, same with baseball, same with basketball. I just feel like we need to figure it out and move forward. — As told to Andrea Adelson
Troy Warner, safety, BYU football
I ended up putting together a plan for myself. Talked to my older brother who’s playing in the NFL [49ers linebacker Fred Warner], and he gave me some good advice about what I should do while I’m away from football to mentally and physically prepare for when this is all over.
There’s a training facility just north of Provo [Utah] where I work out. There’s not many people that go, just because they’ve got to keep the numbers down in each session. They sanitize their stuff every day. Here in Utah, there’s still a lot that’s open, but there’s a lot of restrictions and guidelines that people have got to follow in order to remain open.
I live off campus with my wife. Her family lives about 10 minutes away, also in Provo. We’ve been able to visit them and hang out with them. Right now a typical day is, I wake up, I train, I come back, I hit some mobility stuff, and then I read. I hang out with the wifey if she’s here. If she’s at work, then I’ll come home and play Call of Duty with my friends or something.
My wife is a registered nurse. She works on the mom and baby floor at Utah Valley Hospital. She works the graveyard shift three or four times a week. They’re 12-hour shifts, so it’s very demanding. As soon as you enter the hospital, they test your temperature. And then as you leave, they also test it as well. They obviously wear the masks, and in the beginning of the whole outbreak, they were wearing these visors that went over their full face. That’s not the best thing to wear when you’re having to work 12-hour shifts.
There’s always that little bit of concern of, is she going to get it or not? But at the end of the day, she loves what she signed up for. She understands that. We talk about when we think this will all end, if it will all end, if it’s still on the rise and if we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.
Our [first] anniversary was the 26th of April. It’s tough. People are supposed to be indoors, so there’s not a lot we could do. But I told her as soon as it’s over, we can take a little bit of vacation and celebrate. On the day of our anniversary, we got food and went up the mountain and ate our food with a view.
After I took that last test — it was a final exam in ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ — it felt extremely good, just because of the long journey that it takes to become a college graduate. It was a bit unusual, just how it ended, and then obviously the graduation ceremony doesn’t happen how it usually does. That was kind of taken away from me. But it’s a huge accomplishment to me and my family. — As told to Adam Rittenberg
Camryn Bynum, safety, Cal football
I messed up my leg [meniscus] a week before the shutdown. I got my MRI, figured out that it was messed up, missed one practice and then had [surgery] the next day. I was my surgeon’s last surgery.
I had the surgery on [March] 13, and my mom came up to take care of me. School was shut down, so my mom, myself and two of my cousins went back to Southern California on the 17th. They came to quarantine with us at our house. A couple weeks later, two of my other family members came to stay. Ten people in the house, it’s crazy. It’s so crowded with shared bathrooms and shared beds, but overall it’s a good experience, just like old times when you go visit your family.
I go to rehab three, four days a week. I do that in the morning, come back home and I get a workout in. I have a weight set in the garage. I’m thankful for that.
I started learning piano. I don’t want to come out of quarantine without a new skill. I’m paying for a real piano teacher. Obviously it’s on Zoom, which isn’t ideal, but it’s really helping. I feel like somehow it will help me in football. They say it really helps your brain. I love music. I’m not really musically talented, so it’s fun to be able to learn something.
My teammates are doing well enough, but struggling overall. Something as simple as meals every day, we would get meals cooked for us at school and money from the school to go shopping, but now people are at home and having to fend for themselves. The parents are working or they live in a single-parent household, they’re not able to eat as much. Sometimes they’re dropping weight. It’s tough for a lot of people.
We always talk that whatever team comes out of this and is the most productive during this is going to have a better advantage over the others, so we’re trying to keep that edge. — As told to Adam Rittenberg
Aliyah Boston, forward, South Carolina women’s basketball
I was at my aunt’s house in Massachusetts on spring break when we heard that the tournament was canceled by the pandemic. I started to cry, thinking about our seniors, Ty Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. I’d hoped to have the chance to play for a national championship with them. Instead, we had played our final game together.
I’m from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where my mom, dad, grandparents and several aunts still live. I came to the United States at age 12 to live with my aunt and follow my basketball dreams. Despite the distance, my entire family and I are very close. But it seemed like almost overnight, we were all living in a different world.
In April, as the number of cases went up, and we heard how hard-hit places like New York were, I got really nervous. And about 1 o’clock one morning, I called my mom and said, “I don’t know what’s happening. I’m scared.” We had a long talk about the world, about God, and I just said what was on my mind. That’s when our family devotionals started online. I wanted to get my faith stronger, and I began to reflect on everything. My mom said, “If we were going to the NCAA tournament next week, would you be thinking about any of this?” And I said, “That’s a good point. I’d just be thinking about basketball.” I feel that things are clearer to me now.
Like everyone, I’ve adjusted to a new routine. In the morning, I wake up and get a workout in. Running, or an ab workout, or something our strength coach sent us. Then I’ll have some breakfast, and then binge some Netflix episodes. Then another workout, and then more Netflix binging.
I miss my teammates, but I have a good workout partner in my sister, Alexis. She just turned 21 and also goes to school at South Carolina but is here with me in Massachusetts. She used to play basketball and run track and cross country, so she can run forever without getting tired. She pushes me, and is always there to motivate me.
Our neighbor has a basketball rim, so I’ve been able to do a little bit of shooting. And I’m on group texts with both my teammates and with my family.
As for something else I’ve found out about myself during this time … it’s that I am just such a great dancer! Yeah, I can hear my teammates laughing at that. When I was asked my New Year’s resolution back in January and didn’t really have one, improving my dancing seemed like a good pick. I have also learned that I really can’t sing, but that doesn’t stop me. I do nightly concerts on Snapchat with my cousin and sister.
Dance like no one’s watching, and sing like no one’s listening. Those seem like pretty good quarantine rules. — As told to Mechelle Voepel
Matt Coleman III, guard, Texas men’s basketball
Man, this is different. The days are long. It felt like March went by really slow, but April and May have been really fast.
It’s hard. I’m in Norfolk, Virginia, with my family.
People are just waiting to see how the transition goes with football players going back to campus and practicing. I don’t know what to expect for us. I know the NCAA said we can come back, but it’s all subject to change. I’m a little anxious. This is the most I’ve been home since my sophomore year in high school. I just look forward to getting back and being on a routine, a daily schedule.
My brother, Chase, plays at Virginia and my father, Clifford, is a coach. We have access to a gym. We’re there every night. But going back to campus, our biggest challenge will be building that chemistry with your teammates. With us, we have everybody coming back from last year. From how we ended last year — winning five of our last six — it’s a lot to look forward to in the future. But we haven’t been able to build chemistry by doing things like playing pickup ball together.
As a leader on the team, I’d say the biggest thing for me is just checking in. I FaceTime the guys. I’ve been very consistent with that. The biggest thing right now is communication. I talk to Coach [Shaka] Smart at least every other day.
We play a team sport. Our sport is not based on everybody on their own. We need each other. So the biggest thing right now is your mindset.
It’s gonna be interesting how they handle things on campus with people wearing masks and gloves.
But I’m hungry. It’s my senior year. Me and coach are calling it my “Last Dance.” You don’t want to rush it, but you’re anxious. It’s here. It’s time. With us getting back on campus, that’s the main thing we have to focus on. Not talking about it but doing it. — As told to Myron Medcalf
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State football
It was kind of a shock. It shuts down pretty much the entire world. We all had plans for spring break. For everything to get canceled, you’re like, “OK, that’s not too bad.” And then school gets canceled and spring ball and all that stuff, you’re like, “Damn, this is serious.” It was eye-opening.
I went to California, and they started saying California was shut down, so me and my teammates, we were like, “Let’s get out of here.” So I went to Baltimore and stayed with one of my friends there.
I just did my homework, tried to stay fit and worked on myself as a person. It was wake up, work out, do homework, eat, and then the rest of the day we’d try to fill it in, go to the field, throw the ball around, something to take up all the time.
I came back to Stillwater in April. Everything was pretty much shut down in Baltimore, and then coming back here, it was starting to open up. You see it’s serious in some places, and other places it’s not so bad.
Obviously, I’m following what’s going on in Canada. I’ve got all my family there, so I always check up to see what’s going on. It’s a lot worse here in the States, honestly. There’s a lot more cases. My family is safe, and all my friends are safe, so hopefully they can figure this all out and go back to normal.
I just try to use it as a time to grow as a person, and obviously grow as a football player, but mostly off-the-field stuff. I’m starting a nonprofit, so I’ve had a lot more time to work on that.
It’s called Your Life, Your Choice. It’s aimed to help kids who are in negative environments, kids who are in trouble, put them in positive environments and teach them life skills, leadership skills, really trying to help them develop as a person. The other aspect is to help families that are on welfare, help parents find jobs, help kids get an education. I’ll start up local, but I hope we one day can be international, where I can help kids all across the world. Just growing up, my family had its struggles, but I was really lucky, I had a lot of support around me. Without those people, I wouldn’t be where I am. I want to be that for kids that don’t have what I had. — As told to Adam Rittenberg
Chase Brice, QB, Duke football
I was already online this past semester, trying to stay on top of my schoolwork before I graduated from Clemson and transferred to Duke. Coach [Dabo] Swinney was treating me like a senior graduating in the spring, so luckily he allowed me to use the facility, the weight room, eat meals, go in and get recovery and things like that. So for a small period of time, I was still in Clemson doing what I could, working out until this thing happened.
When we came back from spring break, that’s when they shut it down, around March 15. My parents were like “Get your stuff, come on home to Georgia.” As the whole university switched online, I was forgetting things: I’ve got schoolwork, I need to graduate. During the whole process, I’ve been filling out applications, I’ve been doing grad school writings, I took the GRE a couple times to boost my score and have the opportunity to get into the Fuqua School of Business. Besides all that, my new coaches at Duke would call or I would call within all the rules, and we would talk about what’s going on.
For the rest of the spring semester, it’s been difficult because I haven’t been able to do any of the team meetings. I’m with the team, but I’m not with the team. One of the Duke strength coaches that works with the quarterbacks, Drew McDuffie, he was at Clemson my freshman year, so he was able to send me their quarterback workout sheet, which isn’t different from what we did at Clemson. So when I got home, I just started doing that.
Coach [David] Cutcliffe has told us on Zoom calls with the whole class of 2020 coming in to stay healthy, do everything that the experts are saying to do, wash your hands. It’s not easy, especially when you don’t get to go through spring because you transfer.
Everybody’s in a no man’s land. We’re all going to grind it out and show up in the best shape we can. I am moving up to Duke this weekend on my own, and whenever we are able to start voluntary workouts, I’ll be ready. — As told to Andrea Adelson