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After Cal cancellation, UW’s Jimmy Lake prepared for more COVID-19 surprises: ‘We’re going to be ready for it’

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 9, 2020

Washington head coach Jimmy Lake watches his team  (Ted S. Warren)
Washington head coach Jimmy Lake watches his team (Ted S. Warren)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

At 11 a.m. Thursday, a smiling Jimmy Lake told local media members that “we just had a great practice, and we are ready to travel to Berkeley and go try to get a first victory.”

Exactly one hour later, Washington’s football season opener at California was canceled.

Later that day, Cal coach Justin Wilcox reported that contact tracing stemming from a positive COVID-19 test within his team had effectively wiped out an entire position group.

In the age of coronavirus, things can change that quickly.

“I found out right after I met with you guys on Thursday. It’s never good when you have a number of missed phone calls from (athletic director) Jen Cohen,” said Lake, who now hopes to make his head coaching debut against Oregon State at 8 p.m. Saturday. “We had an emergency team meeting about 45 minutes after that, and I let the team know. They were extremely disappointed, but I’m proud of them. They did not flinch one bit.

“We reshuffled our schedule and ended up practicing on Saturday and Sunday, and I loved the way the guys responded. They came out to practice with energy and focus. They just understand that this has been a roller-coaster ride, and we’re going to expect another dip at some point too.”

Of course, that roller-coaster ride could have taken another unexpected twist. After the game Saturday between Utah and Arizona was canceled Friday morning due to the Utes’ COVID-19 concerns, UW and Arizona administrators discussed the possibility of playing an impromptu game between the Huskies and Wildcats in Seattle instead.

The ultimate issue, Lake said, wasn’t whipping up a game plan to topple Arizona (who the Huskies already are scheduled to meet at home Nov. 21).

It was everything else.

“I know both sides wanted to get it done,” Lake said. “This isn’t pickup basketball where it’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s go play in three hours.’ There’s a lot of logistics going on. There’s people’s pads and equipment being shipped. They were getting things shipped to different locations. Obviously that was going to be very, very hard to pull off.

“I do think in the future if teams know earlier in the week, we could get this thing done if there’s going to be cancellations all along the way. But that would have been a logistical nightmare, and it just couldn’t happen.”

According to Lake, that logistical nightmare would include “getting the team to that city, getting a hotel for close to a hundred people, getting meals ready for over a hundred people for breakfast, lunch and dinner and another dinner at the last second. Also the equipment truck … I know our equipment truck was on its way to Berkeley on Wednesday, then all of a sudden it had to turn around when we found out there was no game.”

So, no, it’s not as easy as updating a flight plan and playing football – and the Huskies know that better than most. Depending on whether Cal and Utah can begin competition this weekend, it’s possible UW will be the last FBS team to start its 2020 season.

And that’s through no fault of its own.

“We can do everything in our power to make sure the virus is not in our building, our staff is healthy and our players are healthy. But if our opponent is not healthy week in and week out there’s a chance of us missing games, which we’ve already missed one,” Lake said. “It’s a unique situation that none of us have had to deal with. But again, I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of how they’ve responded to this.”

And the coaches and administrators, too, have had to respond – through four separate season openers (so far), through recruiting complications, through hastily amended schedules and game plans that are no longer needed.

“At this point it really feels like we’re not surprised anymore,” Lake said. “We’re just like, ‘OK, here we go. It’s on to the next. Let’s build a plan, and let’s get ready to go.’ That’s all you can do at this point. I tell you what: My assistant, we’re changing schedules at the last second, and we look at each other like, ‘OK. We’ve done this before. Here we go. Let’s do it again.’ That’s just how it has to be, and don’t be surprised by it.

“As we sit here right now, the schedule could change by the end of the day and I will not be surprised. I will not be surprised. We’ll be ready to move on and go. Like we talked about when the pandemic first started, the teams and the staffs that just keep their head down and keep working and grind through this thing are going to be the ones that come out on top.”

So UW, it seems, will continue to grind – preparing for an increasingly precarious Pac-12 schedule. And when it comes to the coronavirus, Lake will continue to tell his team: “Don’t let your guard down. Don’t let your guard down.”

These Dawgs don’t need to be told what will happen if they do.

“The things we can control – like limiting the virus in the building – we’re going to continue to try to do that,” he said. “And the things we can’t control, we can’t worry about that. So it’s just positive energy moving forward.

“There’s (probably) going to be something changing here coming up, and we’re going to be ready for it, and we’ll deal with it.”

Similar Cal concerns?

Lake was asked Monday if a single positive COVID-19 test within his roster could theoretically knock his team out for two games – as might be the case at Cal – because of stringent contact-tracing policies.

“From the details I’ve heard of what happened down there, that would not happen here at the University of Washington,” Lake said. “Our medical advisory team has done an amazing job, and our medical team here, of just (preparing for) how the contact tracing works and all the protocols that we go through. The exact situation that just happened there would not happen here at the University of Washington.”

Extra point

UW’s home game against Arizona on Nov. 21 will kick off at 5 p.m. and be broadcast on FOX, the Pac-12 announced.

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