IU football coach Tom Allen upon learning of player’s COVID-19 complications: “You get this sick feeling in your gut”

The concerns are real, and the lines of communication are open between the IU football staff and the parents of the players during the pandemic.

And there is one thing every parent knows.

Despite having the best plans and the best intentions, you can never fully insulate your children from risks.

When it comes to protecting his players from contracting COVID-19, IU head coach Tom Allen knows he has a heavy burden.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to mitigate those risks,” Allen told the media on Thursday.

But Allen also knows that despite following every plan and every precaution, in a program of over 100 players, some of his guys are going to contract the virus.

“We can’t promise any parent that their son isn’t going to get the virus,” Allen said.

Of course several IU players have already tested positive for COVID-19, and at least one player has had serious health concerns as a result.

In an effort to help increase awareness and encourage greater risk mitigation, Deborah Rucker, the mother of IU freshman offensive lineman Brady Feeney went public with her son’s ongoing struggle to recover from the virus.

Feeney had to go to a hospital emergency room, and he has dealt with complications involving his heart and breathing.

Allen took it hard, and personally, when he learned of Feeney’s condition.

“You get this sick feeling in your gut, because you are responsible,” Allen said.  “The parents trust you.”

The challenge is no doubt greater for parents just now learning to trust Allen and the IU staff.

Feeney was one of several true freshmen on the team that have been among those that have contracted COVID-19.

“Several of the guys that have been involved in this (caught COVID-19) have been some of our younger guys,” Allen said.  “They just got here, first time being away from home, in college with the team, and that happens.  It can be stressful, and hard.”

Feeney is back with the team now according to Allen, but he is still undergoing testing and evaluation.

Rucker was clear in her Facebook post that she believed IU handled her sons situation the right way, from risk avoidance to treatment.

But Allen echoed her sentiment when he said that even the best plans won’t be good enough in this environment.

“The thing that was really good was that we had done everything the right way,” Allen said of Feeney’s situation.  “But it just shows you, it’s a highly contagious virus that we’re dealing with.

In an effort to help keep parents aware of what is going on inside the program as it relates to the pandemic, the IU football staff has conducted multiple Zoom meetings with all of the families.

“Communication is very important, with position coaches and medical staff.  We’ve had a couple Zoom calls with our entire parent group, which is over 100 parents and couples, and just trying to answer questions, Allen said.

“I think the more you can talk, the more they can ask.  We live in this so much.  I am in all these meetings.  Sometimes we forget, all the parents are getting is second hand information from what they read and what they know from the outside.  So those have been really good, and it’s just great to keep that communication open.  It creates more confidence and less anxiety.”

But still, as long as the virus remains at the forefront, the anxiety will continue on both sides of the equation.

As the leader of the program, Allen takes it all personally.

And he has had to have some difficult phone calls.

“You’ve got to make those phone calls to parents (of players who have contracted the virus), and those are tough,” Allen said.

Allen’s challenge is no different than that of any coach around the country, but one has to wonder how much time is left for preparing for a football season after navigating a daily onslaught of pandemic concerns.

And one has to wonder about the mental and emotional toll.

“I carry that weight,” Allen said.  “It has been very, very stressful.”


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