SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A dash of concern, firm resolve and no blame.
Notre Dame players have shaken off the COVID-19 cases that hit their program as they prepared for Saturday night’s home game against Florida State. To a man — at least among the four available to reporters this week — they expressed no worries about their own health and no desire to blame teammates.
“No one opted out,” wide receiver Braden Lenzy said. “Everyone wants to be here and we trust the organization. We trust (athletic trainer) Rob Hunt and (the doctors). Incredible men. They’re great at their job and their first focus is the safety of us.”ADVERTISEMENT
The No. 5-ranked Fighting Irish (2-0, 1-0 ACC) will play the Seminoles (1-2, 0-2) after two weekends off — one due to the outbreak, the other an already-scheduled bye.
Notre Dame suspended all football-related activities Sept. 22. The school announced six days later that 25 players were in isolation due to positive tests, with 14 others in quarantine due to contact tracing.
Practice resumed Oct. 1 with 14 players still in isolation and 11 in quarantine. On Monday, those numbers were down to seven and four.
“We had a slip-up and they made adjustments,” Lenzy said of the spread and the response, “and we’re comfortable with those, so now we’re back and we’re doing better than ever.”
Notre Dame has not disclosed which players were affected, but the team’s depth chart released this week was largely void of key absences. Coach Brian Kelly said the roster situation was “fluid” but the team would be fine for the Seminoles.
Linebacker Drew White called the outbreak “a little hiccup,” adding that “I have full faith and trust in all my guys. I knew everyone was doing the right thing.”
Wideout Javon Mckinley said he initially feared “that was it for the season” when activities were halted, “but in time, I took it more day to day.”
TURNING TO TRAVIS
Redshirt sophomore Jordan Travis is expected to start at quarterback for the Seminoles. If he does, it will mark the first time since 2002 that Florida State starts three different quarterbacks over three games in one season.
Travis entered last week’s 41-24 win over Jacksonville State in the second quarter with his team already down 14-0 and directed touchdown drives on each of FSU’s next five possessions.
He finished 12-of-17 passing for 210 yards with one TD and ran 11 times for 48 yards and another score as the Seminoles avoided an 0-3 start.
“He’s a young man that works extremely hard,” coach Mike Norvell said of Travis. “I think he’s respected by everyone on the team. Everybody respects not only the playmaking ability he has … but how he prepares to do that.”
Kevin Austin could see action “in the 15 to 20-play range,” according to Kelly.
The highly hyped receiver has been working back from surgery eight weeks ago on a broken bone in his left foot and hasn’t played in over a year. The Irish also are expected to have safety Kyle Hamilton (ankle) and receiver Ben Skowronek (hamstring) available.
Both were injured during the 27-13 season-opening win over Duke and sat out the 52-0 victory over South Florida.
Safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State’s leading tackler in 2019, is one of several Seminoles dealing with injuries that could keep them out.
“We’re working through the process,” Norvell said of Nasirildeen, who has not played this season due to a leg injury. “Obviously, we’re making sure he’s 100% before he takes the field. He’s working hard in his rehabilitation. There’s an opportunity for us coming up this week, and we’ll see how that goes.”
FRIENDS AND FOES
White, one of five Notre Dame players from Florida, and Seminoles cornerback Asante Samuel are friends and former high school teammates at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale. The two keep in close contact throughout the year.
“Both of us are extremely competitive, coming from St. Thomas,” White said. “That’s kind of what that high school bred … but after the game, we’re going to show each other some love.”
Notre Dame has won 20 straight home games dating to Sept. 30, 2017, and can match Ohio State for the second-longest active streak in the country with a win Saturday. No. 1 Clemson owns the top home win string at 25.
Associated Press freelance writer Bob Ferrante contributed to this report.