LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Through what was probably a combination of discipline on the part of its players, leadership of the coaches and health/training team and undoubtedly some assistance from Lady Luck too, Louisville's football team has escaped any major problem with the coronavirus since student athletes started returning to campus in early June.
And now it looks as if that good fortune has carried over into game week for the Cardinals, who will open the season on Saturday against Western Kentucky in Cardinal Stadium in top form health-wise.
During a teleconference Monday afternoon, I asked coach Scott Satterfield if any players would miss the game due to injury or illness. His reply: "We do not."
Given the problems on other college campuses -- including postponement of the TCU-SMU game due to a spike in positive tests, Clemson's 30-plus positive tests and Tennessee being without 44 players last Saturday -- Louisville's success in holding off the virus is nothing short of remarkable. Call it the Cards' first victory in this unpredictable season.
Of course, it's also subject to change before the 8 p.m. kickoff because tests are being administered to players three times a week. So it's conceivable that a player, or two, or more could still test positive and be forced to sit out the game.
"We've been fortunate," Satterfield said. "We've got our fingers crossed hoping it stays that way for the rest of the season. We all know that if one or two of our guys somehow got in contact with the virus and got into the bubble here, then we would have some issues. If it would happen closer to the game, that would be challenging to say the least. But we recognize that is a possibility."
Satterfield said he has "cross-trained" players to be able to play multiple positions in case the virus does cause problems down the road. He cited safety Jack Fagot, who has also worked at linebacker.
Among the health and safety precautions, players must wear masks and remain socially distant during team meetings and are taking a larger percentage of classes online rather than in person. They are also encouraged not to venture outside the Howard L. Schnellenberger Football Complex and their living quarters. They live in suites but have separate bedrooms and bathrooms.
"They really haven't gotten out into the public," Satterfield said. "I'm really proud of our guys with how well they've handled the virus aspect of things. It's been a long time, I can't remember, since we've even had any positives, so we feel really good about the plan we have in place. I think our guys, you can just kind of sense them now really focusing in for game week."
Attendance at the WKU game will be limited to 12,000 in the 60,800-seat stadium, creating an eerie environment not only for the Cards, but also the Hilltoppers, who won't have to deal with the noise from what would have been under normal circumstances 50,000 or more vocal Louisville fans. It will be by far UofL's smallest opening day crowd since Cardinal Stadium opened in 1998. The smallest until now was 38,129 on Aug. 23, 2001 for a 45-24 victory over New Mexico State.
"We've talked about the atmosphere; it's certainly going to be different, but this is 2020 man, the whole year's different," Satterfield said. "We have to focus on what we can control, and that's playing the best ball we can possibly play. We also talked about our guys on the sidelines that when they're not playing they have to be into the game and have a lot of hype, a lot of energy. We need to create energy within our team and feed off each other and feed off the big plays we make."
Satterfield said the biggest question mark facing the Cards going into their opener is the offensive line, which lost tackles Mekhi Becton and Tyler Hayworth, both of whom are now on NFL rosters. He added that his plan is to rotate six players in the five spots.
"I feel really confident in that first six," Satterfield said. "And we feel if we had to put another one or two guys in there we would be fine. But we feel like really there's six starters; any of that group could start for us."
He said he hasn't decided on a kicker or punter to replace Blanton Creque and Mason King, respectively. Freshman Brock Travelstead and sophomore James Turner are the top candidates at placekicker, while the punting duties will be handled by either Travelstead or another freshman, Ryan Harwell.
"We'll keep working this week and see what happens," Satterfield said. "Whoever we put out there the other person behind them has to be ready as well because they may also get an opportunity Saturday night. You never know, so you have to be ready, you can't just get ready on the day of the game."
Western Kentucky hasn't released a depth chart, so UofL said it was also withholding its depth chart until later in the week.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.