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Josh Heupel is Keeping His Knights Ready for the Season, Whenever it Comes

UCF’s head coach has stayed connected to his coaches, players and recruits during this time of quarantine and social distancing.

Central Florida v Temple
No, UCF football head coach Josh Heupel doesn’t know when the college football season will begin. But he wants his players to be raring to go when it does.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Josh Heupel says he’s living a pretty consistent life these days. The UCF Knights’ head football coach is still getting up as his usual, early hour to hold meetings with his staff and players. He spends his afternoons talking with recruits, and he is still coaching young athletes in person.

Of course, all of those tasks are unfolding in an unusual fashion right now. Those meetings are usually carried via Zoom video conferences. In lieu of face-to-face visits, he is trying to sell recruits on UCF through numerous phone calls. And the athletes he gets to coach directly these days are his two children.

“I’m the P.E. instructor at about 12 o’clock when they get done with class, and we’re outside,” he said Tuesday.

He said the time spent with his son and daughter has been “the one positive side” of quarantine life during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m lonely,” he quipped.

Heupel hopes there is a way for UCF to play football this fall, but he wouldn’t venture to guess when everything will return to normal for his program, either in the fall or possibly the spring, or if UCF’s next home game will have any fans in attendance.

“I think all of us are putting the cart before the horse if we’re trying to project when we’re going to get back, what football is going to look like at that point, what the season is going to look like,” he said.

“It’s just my hope that we’re able to get back on the football field and have a great season here, whenever that happens.”

To achieve that, Heupel is keeping in contact with all of his players to make sure they are OK during this time as almost all of America is living under a stay-at-home order. Heupel said he has called every current Knights football player over the past two weeks to make sure they and those close to them are doing well not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and economically as millions of Americans have recently found themselves out of work.

“I wanted to check in on their real living situation, how their families were doing,” he said. “Everyone’s being affected by this in different ways.”

The players have also been in touch with their respective position coaches multiple times per week. The strength and conditioning staff has disseminated varied workout plans to players who have access to weight-lifting and gym equipment and those who do not.

And Heupel doesn’t mind when his players find inventive ways to stay in shape; he has seen the videos posted recently of players such as offensive linemen Parker Boudreaux and Samuel Jackson pushing cars down the street. He emphasizes an important benefit of those activities beyond maintaining physical strength.

“The interaction, I think that’s something that all of our players crave right now,” he said. “... It’s a great feeling to be a part of something that’s bigger than you. It’s an awesome experience to have people around you that love and support you and push you and try to help you become your best. I think our team understands that now better than ever.”

“The urgency from our players to be in shape and prepare themselves the best they can is at a high level.”

Heupel and his coaches have a staff meeting over Zoom in the early portion of each week, and recruiting remains a big issue on the agenda. A handful of players have received offers from UCF over the past few days, and there continues to be a “bunch of communication” between the coaches and prospects, according to Heupel. He said the hardest part of recruiting in this moment is the inability to give their top targets a full view of everything UCF has to offer; FaceTime can accomplish only so much.

“It’s just different that you haven’t had them on campus and had an in-person visit with them,” Heupel said. “You haven’t had an opportunity to showcase a little bit about your university — the facilities, the campus and, as much as anything, just the environment that you have and the brotherhood that you have within your program.”

When he’s not recruiting or planning or coaching, Heupel has spent his down time like many of us: “I’ve watched more Netflix than I ever have in my entire life here.” He added that his wife, Dawn, got him to start watching “All-American” this past weekend.

While preparing for a season beyond the horizon, Heupel has also made sure his players are mindful of doing what’s best at this time to help fight against COVID-19: Consistent, thorough hand-washing, social distancing, staying inside as much as possible, etc. Because like the game of football, this pandemic is bigger than looking out for one’s own self.

“As much as you’re trying to take care of yourself, you’re trying to also take care of the people around you that you may not be knowingly infecting as well if you happen to be infected with it,” he said.

Heupel has tried to structure his days to make them as normal as possible. But he acknowledges that nothing is truly normal right now.

“I think everyone in America wants to get back to normal, everyday life,” he said. “And our players, they want to get back to that as well.”

They will at some point, to be determined. Until then, the Knights will do their best to stay sharp, stay strong, stay safe, and maybe watch some Netflix.