In March, the McNeese State football team was a few days from starting spring practice when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Southland Conference to shut down all competitions and workouts.
More than four months later, and about eight months to the day that the Cowboys last stepped on a football field as a team in their season-ending win over rival Lamar, McNeese took the field for its first walk-through of the 2020 offseason on Friday. That was the earliest date permissible for NCAA Division I teams to start practicing with a football on the field, although no helmets or other pads were worn.
"It feels amazing," redshirt senior quarterback Cody Orgeron said after Monday's walk-through practice. "We haven't been out here since we played Lamar last season. So just getting that chemistry and timing back with the receivers, throwing extra balls after practice, putting in overtime, it just feels good to be out here.
"Getting into football shape, especially out here in the heat — full-speed, full-tempo practice. Man, we were really getting after it. Really just getting a hold of things again and getting back full circle."
While players did not wear helmets, they did don the gaiters that covered their necks, mouths, and noses during practice. Otherwise, it was business as usual for the Cowboys under first-year head coach Frank Wilson.
"I thought things went well today," Wilson said on Monday. "I thought we continued to get better throughout the day. I think it's important for us to continue to create competition. I think that's the only way that our team will get to where we desire to be."
Wilson said the team's depth chart is, "etched in sand, it's forever evolving," which is to be expected with more than a month to go before McNeese's season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. While there may be positions that have more certainty with starters than others, no position is locked down.
Orgeron returns for his final college season having produced career numbers in the 2019 season (2,628 yards and 24 touchdowns passing). But if he is to retain his starting job, he will have to beat out Kentucky transfer Walker Wood and redshirt freshman Cade Bartlett.
During the last few months when most people were under the state's stay-at-home order, Orgeron said he got workouts in at gyms when he could. He said he trained as hard as he could to get ready for the 2020 season.
Whoever the starting quarterback is will have a talented group of wide receivers to throw to, among them returners Cyron Sutton, Trevor Begue, Nate Briscoe, Mason Pierce and Deon Cormier, as well as transfers Joshua Matthews (Louisiana Tech) and Severyn Foster (Rochester College).
"It's unbelievable," Orgeron said of the wide receiver group. "They make my job easy. Obviously with Trevor and Cyron returning, those two are automatic. We came in together in the 2016 class, so that's five years of throwing the ball together. That's chemistry. It better be automatic by that time."
Division I teams are allowed to conduct the walk-throughs through Aug. 6, and then they can start what is a normal fall training camp.
Wilson said he likes these two weeks of walk-throughs, especially given what his team missed out on in the spring.
"I think, in lieu of us not having a spring football season, that it allows us to get work in, to find out who we are as a football team, to give us some work days in preparation for our fall camp," Wilson said. "We just want to get as far along as possible, so we're not starting from ground zero when we start fall camp."
McNeese is scheduled to start fall camp on Aug. 7.