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Taking the reins as the new head coach of a college football program comes with its own set of challenges in the most conventional of times.

Now consider the last few months, which have been quite unconventional.

First-year McNeese State head football coach Frank Wilson has had to deal with the normal things that a coach encounters when taking over at a new school: institute his own culture, hire a coaching staff to fit what he wants to do and how he wants to coach and install an on-field scheme to put his team in the best position to win games, among many other tasks.

Now add to that a worldwide pandemic that caused almost the entire United States to shut down, and follow that with the civil unrest and protests after unarmed Black people were killed after encounters with police.

The start of the 2020 college football season is still uncertain, but Wilson and his coaching staff said they are doing their best during one of the most unique periods in this country's history to care about his team in every way possible.

Voluntary strength and conditioning workouts started for the Cowboys on June 1. None of the coaching staffs on campus are allowed to be involved with the players during workouts, but they can conduct virtual non-physical activities.

Wilson said every player enters and leaves the athletic facility so they can have their temperature taken and are screened for illness.

Wilson said there is a task force comprised of team doctors, administrators, medical staff and others who give instruction on what to do and not to do in keeping with the guidelines for dealing with COVID-19. If a player shows possible symptoms of sickness, they can be sent home or questioned more to determine what it could be.

"We just follow that protocol," Wilson said. "For us, that's our first step. Every morning when they come here, players, coaches, administrators, we go through our training room. One way you get in this building, and it's through the training room office."

The strength and conditioning workouts don't exceed 20 athletes per coach, in order to keep numbers for football workouts low and minimize the chance for spread of the virus.

All of the strength and conditioning and all of the training staff wear masks and gloves during the workouts and whenever they come in contact with athletes. In between the workouts, the weight room and anyplace else athletes come in contact with is wiped down and sanitized.

Wilson said as far as meetings go, not only do the coaches meet with players via Zoom, they also meet as a coaching staff the same way, despite all being in the building not too far from each other. Each coach sits at his desk in his office as a precaution.

"That's how we do our position meetings, that's how we do our staff meetings," Wilson said.

McNeese interim Athletic Director Heath Schroyer said there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the athletic department. Official test numbers will be released once the football team reports en masse for mandatory workouts starting on July 13.

Those workouts include weight training, conditioning and film review and can be up to 8 hours per week, still without the coaching staff. Starting July 24, that number increases to 20 hours per week and can include in-person team meetings and walk-throughs. If all goes according to schedule, Aug. 7 should be the start date for the normal preseason practice period.

"I think that's important because it gives you a light at the end of the tunnel," Wilson said. "But we're living a day and age where everything is still fluid."

The fall camp that is scheduled to start on Aug. 7 is vitally important to McNeese, because it missed out on spring practice when all athletic activities were canceled by the Southland Conference just days before it was scheduled to start on March 17.

"At least it gives us an idea, a target of the things that we will be able to do within a time allotment," Wilson said.

McNeese's first regular-season game is scheduled for Sept. 5 at rival Louisiana-Lafayette.

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