JONESBORO — The calendar has turned to a page that, to Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson, seemingly took forever to arrive.
It’s game week for the Red Wolves.
ASU will start its 106th football season Saturday night against an opponent it has played more than any other in school history. The Red Wolves will make the short trip to take on defending American Athletic Conference champion Memphis at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
In a year when not every Football Bowl Subdivision team will play because of COVID-19, ASU is among the few that will take the field over Labor Day weekend. Only nine games involving FBS teams will be played during what is normally a full weekend of college football.
ESPN picked up the Red Wolves and Tigers for Saturday night’s primetime slot. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
This year, preparing to play means COVID-19 testing leading up to the game. Anderson said the Red Wolves had zero positive tests from Saturday’s COVID-19 testing.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical week anymore, to be honest with you. You just have to be flexible and fluid and adjust,” Anderson said Monday during his weekly press conference. “We tested Saturday, as did Memphis, as I understand. We tested Saturday and we will test again on Wednesday, probably Wednesday morning. The American has two tests per week protocol, so we’ll adhere to that and beyond that, we’re just going to try to do what we normally do.”
Anderson joked about coaching in a mask with a smiley face so everyone will assume he’s in a good mood the entire game. Coaching in a mask will be different, he said, and getting players to remember to put their masks on when they reach the sideline will also be different.
Saturday’s sideline setup will also be different as the Red Wolves try to socially distance, something Anderson said they did during a couple of scrimmages in fall camp.
“We have a feel for it, but it’s still awkward,” Anderson said. “You’re just used to coming over and circling up. To keep people spread out, the way we’ve decided to do it is each guy has his own station, a chair for each player with a towel and with water, already distanced out. Obviously we do that by position where we can still communicate, but it is obviously different.
“The conference wanted a cooling zone for each guy so there was a place they knew they could go, so we decided to make that their location. It’s going to take some getting used to and we’re going to have to do a great job with it, but we felt like it was the best way to give the conference and the medical team what they wanted, and also make it where our guys didn’t have to think about it. If they go to their cooling zone, then they’re going to be taken care of when they get back in the rotation.”
The Red Wolves did not practice Monday, which is normally their day off during the season.
Anderson said the team participated in a unity march for social justice on Monday morning. Organized by the football team’s Leadership Council and open to all athletes and others in ASU athletics, the march went from the north end zone complex to the student union.
The football team also had a meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the voting process and voter registration, Anderson said.
“That came from the group of guys. We don’t want to just talk about something, we don’t want to just tweet something out,” Anderson said. “We want to take some steps in the direction where we can be part of the change. I think our league, our coaches got together and talked about what our (racial equity) initiative would be, and it started with ‘Be The Change.’
“That means you need to be the change you want to see in the world around you, and I think our guys are taking that to heart. The voting aspect is just one step of what I think a lot future steps will be to hopefully affect the community here, but then also be seen by those around us that will watch. I’ve been really proud of them.”