Elijah Molden and Levi Onwuzurike decided to return for their senior seasons rather than enter the 2020 NFL draft.
They may need to make the same decision again.
This week, the Pac-12 Conference officially postponed all fall sports competitions. It’s possible a football season could still be played in the spring.
But if it is, would Molden and Onwuzurike — two seniors and potential early-round picks — be willing to risk injury, or infection, to finish their college careers in 2021?
“They know they can come to me and their position coach and talk these things out, and we’ve done that,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said in a Zoom call with reporters Friday. “There’s a few things in play here. First, is the NFL going to pull their seasons off? Are they going to be able to play all of their games? And are they still going to have the combine in February and the draft April and May? I’ve heard talk that there’s potential they could move that back.
“Even if they have their season, if all Power Five conferences are not playing and the rest of college football is not playing, I’ve heard they may move the combine back and they may move the draft back. So there’s a lot of things at play here. The message to our guys that are in those positions was, ‘Let’s be patient. Let’s see what happens here in the next coming months, and let’s make an informed decision.’ When we can make an informed decision, everyone’s going to feel better about that.”
Either way, those decisions will have a profound effect on UW’s defense. A 5-foot-10, 191-pound defensive back, Molden led the Huskies in tackles (79), pass breakups (13), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3) in 2019. And Onwuzurike — a 6-3, 288-pound defensive lineman — contributed 45 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks, en route to being named a first-team All-Pac-12 performer.
Other Husky standouts — guys like outside linebacker Joe Tryon, tight end Cade Otton or offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland — could conceivably sit out a spring season in order to declare for the NFL draft.
But, like Lake said, each suddenly has a lot of free time to make an informed decision.
Popping the bubble
Echoing the repeated sentiment of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, Lake and UW associate athletics director for health and wellness Rob Scheidegger said Friday that a bubble similar to those constructed by the NBA, NHL and MLS would not be realistic or appropriate for college athletes.
“We’re obviously on a college campus,” Lake said. “The thought of not allowing our students to come here to go to school and get a higher education, but to (simultaneously) pour all of these resources to put our players in some type of bubble like they’re professional athletes so we can play football, I think that misses the mark.
“If it’s not safe for our students to come to school here and it’s not safe for our student-athletes to be around other students, we shouldn’t put a whole bunch of resources in just to get these guys on the football field and play football. That’s my take.”
Added Scheidegger: “We have 650 student-athletes who all want to compete in a bunch of different sports. The idea of creating a completely locked-off bubble like some professional sports leagues have done, for the factors that coach Lake talked about and some other factors, it’s not feasible for college athletes.”
COVID-19 testing update
On Friday, Scheidegger said that UW has performed more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests on the 280 athletes on campus with 12 total positive tests. He stated that the percentage of positive tests is less than 2%. Six UW athletes also tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies when first returning to campus. There are athletes from all 22 of UW’s athletics programs on campus.
Scheidegger also reported that UW is generally able to receive results from its PCR COVID-19 tests within 24 hours, which is not true of all Pac-12 programs. And more efficient testing is also on its way.
“We’re going to have the ability to have instant test results and insure that on that day someone is not carrying COVID and not spreading COVID-19 around our facilities. So that’s coming,” said Scheidegger, who added that research into the point-of-care testing is being done on UW’s campus.
“We have great testing right now. We feel like we can create a safe environment right now for a certain level of physical contact, but not to the level where we can compete.”