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Lobos return to a different world

One of the groups from the University of New Mexico football team heads to one of the four weight areas on Monday. From front, Patrick Peek, Nico Bolden, Matthew French and Jimmy Carson, the UNM director of athletic performance. (Courtesy of UNM Athletics)

University of New Mexico football coach Danny Gonzales had been counting the days until he would see his players again from when he last saw them in March after the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring practices.

He said Monday would have been Day No. 108 of not being with his team in person. The counting stopped on Monday, as the Lobos — “a little over 60 players” — showed up at the UNM facilities to work out and train to prepare for an upcoming season that hangs in the balance.

“We have a new number, that’s 54,” Gonzales said of the days from Monday leading up to the Lobos’ scheduled season opener against Idaho State on Aug. 29 at Dreamstyle Stadium. “We’re counting them down till we get to kick off the 2020 season. (Monday) was a great start. We have a long, long way to go.”

Gonzales spoke to the media via Zoom on Monday afternoon.

The UNM football team was without 18 players who have yet to have a physical or finish enough quarantine days after arriving in Albuquerque from out of state, Gonzales said. In addition, 20 incoming freshmen got into Albuquerque Sunday and Monday and won’t join the team until they are cleared through a 14-day quarantine and a physical.

UNM conducted 88 tests for the coronavirus among student-athletes, coaches and staff on June 27 and one came back positive. The positive test was of a student-athlete, but Gonzales would not comment if the athlete is a football player, only referring to the person as “he.”

The UNM football players that did show up Monday displayed eagerness to get to work, Gonzales said, and in that excitement to return they were more than willing to follow new protocols.

They wore masks into the facilities, stayed in small groups, filled out a form and were screened for their body temperatures. There are four weight-room areas for them to work out, including two in the indoor practice facility, where platforms were installed at opposite ends of the bubble. The other weight rooms are at the Tow Diehm facility and near the tennis courts and athletic administration building.

The locker room is closed, so when they were done with training, they changed in a tent, a changing station that had one entrance and a different exit. Each of the areas were sanitized after use, Gonzales said. Media is not allowed at the facilities.

During the spring, the Lobos practiced at a high tempo and aimed for efficiency.

Monday was “very organized,” and “smooth,” said Gonzales, who is in his first year as the Lobos’ coach.

“(Monday) was as good as it could have possibly gone,” he said. “My hope for the rest of the week is that we become more efficient and faster. … I’m just excited to have them back. To push them to what we love to do, it’s just awesome.”

The first day and the first week is mainly to gauge where the players are at in their conditioning, Gonzales said. He said the majority of the team did not have access to a weight room during the time the players were away from UNM.

Gonzales said he believes the Lobos will ramp up the training next week. During the first two weeks, they will train for eight hours each week.

Beginning July 17, the training will increase to 20 hours per week leading up to the start of preseason camp on July 31.

“When I took the job on Dec. 17, this wasn’t the path that I thought we would be on right now,” said Gonzales, who remains confident that there will be a college football season. “I thought we would be a lot further ahead getting ready to play our first game, but it’s where we’re at. We’ll make the most of it. We’ll keep going forward.”

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