Notre Dame cancels practice due to COVID-19 positives

Brian Kelly Notre Dame
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Days after No. 7 Notre Dame first held seven players out of a game due to positive coronavirus tests and subsequent contact tracing, days after Irish head coach Brian Kelly then used the immediate postgame celebration of a 52-0 romp to plead with his team to remain vigilant about their actions and wearing masks, the day after the program announced four positive tests and six additional players in quarantine due to contact tracing, Notre Dame (2-0, 1-0 ACC) has reportedly canceled Tuesday’s practice.

At the very least, the Irish are without those 10 players, almost assuredly including the seven from the two-deep depth chart that were sidelined against South Florida — sophomore cornerback Tariq Bracy, junior Buck linebacker Shayne Simon, sophomore Buck linebacker Marist Liufau, junior defensive end Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore quarterback Brendon Clark, junior running back Jahmir Smith and junior receiver Lawrence Keys. Those seven are also expected to miss this weekend’s scheduled trip to Wake Forest (12 ET; ABC).

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Pending the results of subsequent testing, that number could have grown since Monday, obviously. Or, this Tuesday decision could be out of an abundance of caution while awaiting test results.

“It’s always an evolving situation,” Kelly said Monday. “We’re learning about things daily about how to attack this virus and utilizing all the procedures and protocols, including testing.”

The ACC requires three tests a week, including one within 72 hours of the game. That yields some uniformity in a mid-week test and a Friday test for every program, as well as a test most likely on Sunday.

“Then you kind of fill in the blanks from there,” Kelly said. “Do you follow a model of then antigen test every day? Do you antigen test and then follow it up if you suspect anything? Do you follow it up with a PCR? I think that’s where the individual schools kind of then have some flexibility to do what they want to do.”

In Notre Dame’s case, that includes some specific groups getting more tests.

“From our standpoint right now, certain segments of our team are getting tested every day,” Kelly said. “The higher risk areas, which are generally speaking those that fall under the close contact, which would be the linemen.”

While the ACC has not put out positional minimum requirements to play a game, both the SEC and the Big 12 have, with the SEC mandating a quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen be among the 53 minimum scholarship players available. Otherwise, a no contest is considered due to compelling reason.

Before the season, Kelly pointed to Tuesday and Wednesday practices as the most vital in a week, suggesting if his team missed them both, it would be tough to play the following weekend.

“If you’re out of business Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you’re in trouble for having a team that can practice and be prepared,” Kelly said. “… If you lose two or three days early in the week, you’re hard-pressed to get your team ready.”

Those are the hurdles in place right now, on Tuesday. That does not factor in who will step in to replace the quarantined and isolated — “These guys are really engaged and know that they can be called upon at any time.” It does not fret over maintaining the fitness of those in quarantine and isolation so they can quickly return to action upon clearing all protocols — “They have a modified quarantine workout program that gets them back in pretty good shape.”

Nor does it include the added layers of concern involved in traveling to a game on the east coast.

The Irish plan to practice in South Bend on Friday, as well as hold all meetings and have dinner before flying to North Carolina. Normally, all those events would take place after the flight.

“Get in there in the evening, get off the plane and go to bed to lessen the contact in the hotel,” Kelly said. “Our guys will be in individual rooms and wake up in the morning, throw on a Superman cape and go beat Wake Forest.”

At best, Notre Dame will need to pack fewer capes. If not that, the flight can be rescheduled to next weekend, when both the Irish and the Demon Deacons currently have an off week.

To clear up any confusion, the exact dates and numbers of the data the Irish have released:
Sept. 14: Two positive tests and two players in quarantine due to contact tracing.
Sept. 19: Notre Dame declares seven players from the two-deep unavailable to play against South Florida.
Sept. 21: Four positive tests and six players in quarantine due to contact tracing.

This rash of positive tests and quarantines could very well include some Irish coaches. Note: There is no knowledge it does; this is simply acknowledging the clear possibility. Notre Dame has a plan in place to replace the duties of any coach necessary, including Kelly.

“We have a succession plan in place for myself and each and every coach on the staff, in terms of the responsibilities and the duties,” Kelly said Monday. “Mine are not singular in terms of one coach taking over.”

Neither graduate transfer receiver Ben Skowronek nor sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton played against the Bulls, but their concerns were of a more traditional variety. Despite a balky hamstring, Skowronek was able to run Monday, now considered “day-to-day.”

Hamilton (sprained ankle) “looks pretty good,” per Kelly. “The expectation there is that he would start to ramp it up and probably get into some practices this week.”