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Chamberlain Smith / UGA Sports
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart acknowledged a unique future is ahead for football, but he will continue to educate his players and keep his program as safe as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart shares ‘outside the box’ thinking on COVID-19 policy

ATHENS — Kirby Smart was a step ahead of local government in educating his players on the importance of wearing masks, per a recent ESPN podcast.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission unanimously approved the requirement of wearing masks in public on Tuesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic after a recent spike in cases.

The mandate does not apply to outdoor physical activity provided people stay 6 feet apart.

The  Bulldogs have been taking part in voluntary workouts since June 8 on the UGA campus.

“When they step out of our building  they are understanding of when they’ve got to have masks on and when they don’t,” Smart said on the recent ESPN podcast with David Pollack and Kevin Negandhi.

“A lot of our players think that they are beyond harm. That’s not the case that we’re seeing with this pandemic.”

Georgia will require masks inside of campus building starting next Tuesday, per a Monday University System of Georgia update. Previously, UGA had said it would encourage but not require masks.

18 to 24 spike

There has been an increase in cases in the 18 to 24-year-old age group. Most are aware COVID-19 risk factors are considerably lower for younger people than senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions.

Whether or not there is a football season wouldn’t seem to have any effect on the case count for the 18 to 24-year-old age group, based on the recent trends even before the first football practice has taken place.

Young adults congregate more than other age group, and it would be challenge for any legislation to curb that element of human nature.

Indeed, even Pollack admitted when he was younger it would have been hard to convince him to exercise caution.

“When I was 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, if you told me I had to stay inside to help older people, I’d have been like, “yeah, ok, no thanks, because I’m worried about me,’ “ said Pollack, a former UGA All-American who stands as the most decorated defensive player in school history.

“You know, I’m worried about what I want to do, and I didn’t really think about the future.”

Educating players

Smart and his staff have worked to educate and instill in the UGA players the importance of maintaining safe practices.

“The first and most important thing is we all want everyone in our country and our communities to be as safe as possible,” Smart said. “The health and well-being of not only our student-athletes, but the people that are in our inner-bubble.

“There are so many people that are involved in our program outside of just the players that we have to keep safe. That’s an important part and this recent spike in numbers.”

Georgia junior Jamaree Salyer spoke last month about how UGA’s leadership group meets and shares its concerns and thoughts with the coaching staff regularly.

RELATED: How Georgia football leadership group keeps ideas aligned

It has been a two-way street, Smart and his staff have worked to make the players conscientious about COVID-19 safety protocol.

“We talk to them, we listen to their concerns,” Smart said. “We’ve tried to do some things where they actually clean the weight rooms themselves, because we think that makes them understand the importance of it.

“We still have it professionally cleaned on top of them. But I think making them aware, that ‘I’ve got to clean this,’ then they go home and they think the same thing.”

Unique future

Smart, who won’t be allowed to oversee workouts until next Wednesday per NCAA stipulations, said the preseason practices figure to be different.

“When you look at the schedule for fall camp it’s going to be different,” Smart said. “ It is forcing us to be innovative and think outside the box with who guys room with, how do you practice?

“Do you practice ones and threes and twos and fours so you keep some depth? It will be a unique situation starting out.”


COVID-19 on Georgia team

It’s likely that Georgia football will have players in the program who get COVID-19 if they haven’t already.

UGA’s policy has been to not disclose the number of players who have tested positive.

Smart, however, acknowledged there has been some contact tracing.

“There’s still a lot of questions as far as how we’re going to be able to practice, where we’re going to be able to put the players, what does contact tracing look like from a practice standpoint,” Smart said. “Because right now, it’s who have they been with, within 6 feet (of) for 15 minutes. That can be subjective at times.

“So how is that going to work out when we get on the practice field?”

Smart and his staff will have two 8-hour weeks to oversee workouts, but practices involving a football can’t begin until July 26.

There will be two weeks of “walk-through” football practice leading into the more typical fall schedule that begins for Georgia on Aug. 9.

The Bulldogs start the countable practice activity two days later than most of the other programs because their season-opening game is currently scheduled for a Monday night (Sept. 7). That’s two days later than most teams open up on Saturday, Sept. 5.

Georgia football preseason stories

How Georgia leadership group keeps team on track amid challenging times

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Jamie Newman on the clock, embracing UGA’s elite defense

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