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Ready to Return: Wolfpack in Catchup Mode

After being sidelined for a week because of a COVID-19 outbreak, the NC State football team will be looking to make up for lost time now that it's allowed back onto the practice field

NC State football coach Dave Doeren was eerily prophetic two weeks ago when he was asked about preparing his team for the upcoming season amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Every day you just kind of bend your knees and be flexible," he said, "and try to stay as positive as you can and deal with it."

The Wolfpack's flexibility was severely tested not long after Doeren made that statement when practice was temporarily halted because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

On Monday, after a full week of inactivity, State will return to the practice field needing to make up for lost time with less than three weeks remaining until its newly rescheduled season opener against Wake Forest at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19. 

The Wolfpack had just started working out in pads when the plug was pulled.after 22 positives were reported among a group of 693 COVID-19 tests that were taken within the school's programs.

It is not known how many players were affected by the virus and how many, if any, remain in quarantine. But even for those that haven't had to deal with health issues during the pause, it will take at least a few days to "reacclimate" themselves, as Doeren put it, and be ready to pick up where they left off.

Conditioning is only part of the challenge facing the coaches and players in the coming days.

There are also ongoing position battles. And not just for starting jobs.

Because the coronavirus can hit anyone at any time, as the Wolfpack learned last week, developing depth has become even more important than ever.

It's an eventuality for which Doeren and his staff had already begun preparing even before the pandemic hit home.

"We’ve talked to the team a lot about it," Doeren said during a Zoom conference with the media on Aug. 19. "We’re doing it where we know that we are going to have those issues. I think the offensive line is one position in particular. Obviously, left tackles can play guard. Right tackles can play guard and guards can play center. We are trying to give those guys the ability to do that.

"We definitely don’t want to get into game week and all of a sudden you have to have 10 guys out for whatever reason and you’ve never lined guys up in different spots. We’ve given them that now so that they’re not freaked out by it later."

Even with all that planning, there's no way of predicting how the players will handle a set of circumstances no one has ever encountered before.

It's going to take focus and the leadership of veterans such as senior receiver Emeka Emezie to keep the team on track and ready to play once the season finally kicks off against an opponent that hasn't had to deal with the same kind of distractions.  

"At first I was kind of having a struggle with ‘oh, what’s going to happen?’ But now I just try to take every day as it is and just give 100%," Emezie said before the shutdown. "If you are thinking about what is going to happen and what’s not going to happen, you’re going to miss the present. I’m just taking it in every single day, day-by-day."

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