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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