Boise State’s Avalos on return to normalcy after COVID-19 season: ‘We’re not there.’

·3 min read

Boise State football coach Andy Avalos said Tuesday that the team’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has improved since the Mountain West made it clear during media days that it wants all players and coaches vaccinated. But he said there’s still work to be done, and anyone who thinks the pandemic won’t impact the upcoming season is kidding themselves.

“As much as we all want to move on to whatever the new normal is ... we’re not there,” Avalos told reporters from behind a podium near the 50-yard line in Albertsons Stadium. “One of the biggest opponents we’ll have this year is handling our COVID protocols. We have to be very mindful of the decisions we make if we want to put our best foot forward and put ourselves in a position where we can continue to grow every single day.”

With the number of new cases in the state growing by the day, Avalos also said there are going to be COVID-19 protocols in place as Boise State opens fall camp on Wednesday morning. He didn’t go into specifics, but the university released a statement last week that strongly recommended all members of the campus community — regardless of vaccination status — wear masks when indoors on campus. Last season, players were required to wear masks or visors on their helmets during practice.

“The protocols and the pandemic will play a role in college football this year,” Avalos said. “If it’s wearing a mask, it may not be enjoyable, but there are bigger things we have to overcome.”

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said during media days last month in Las Vegas that seven of the conference’s 12 football teams had vaccination rates close to 90%. He also said players or coaches who aren’t vaccinated will have to undergo many of the same testing protocols as last season, and teams that have games canceled because of the virus will not get the chance to make them up and could be on the hook for an opponent’s financial losses.

Boise State wouldn’t comment on its vaccination rate at media days, but it was clear that the Broncos’ numbers weren’t where Avalos wanted them. He didn’t give a specific percentage on Tuesday, but it’s obvious that forfeiting games because of positive cases will not sit well with him.

“That’s a huge concern, because we control that.” he said. “That’s where we have to commit ourselves to aligning with the greater good.”

Avalos said there have been vaccination drives on campus that players could take advantage of in the past couple weeks, and there have been health officials and experts on infectious diseases on campus to speak to the team — some of whom were specifically requested by players.

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Steps are being taken at Boise State to ensure the safety of players, coaches and fans and a return to as close to a normal season as possible.

Avalos said during media days that he is vaccinated, and both Boise State players in attendance — wide receiver Khalil Shakir and defensive back Kekaula Kaniho — said they are, too. After only allowing about 1,100 fans to attend two of its home games last season, Boise State also announced in May that up-to-full-capacity crowds will be welcomed back to Albertsons Stadium this fall and for all other sports moving forward.

College football isn’t out of the woods yet, though, so Avalos will continue spending almost as much time on preventing the virus from wreaking havoc on his roster as he is on the X’s and O’s of the game.

“It’s not strategizing defense anymore,” he said, referring to his time as defensive coordinator at Boise State and Oregon. “It’s strategizing this stuff to put us in the best position to keep everybody safe so we can all continue to grow and thrive.”

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