The Kansas State Wildcats learned the hard way two months ago just how quickly COVID-19 can spread within a football team.
Then again, they also got off easy, with the only real consequence a temporary shutdown of voluntary summer conditioning.
"I think it was a blessing in disguise, probably, because it was in June," head coach Chris Klieman said Tuesday about a virus outbreak that affected more than a dozen players. "The kids that did test positive all had mild to no symptoms — were asymptomatic — so I know that we were fortunate there that nobody was really sick.
"But they did learn some lessons, whether it's eight guys getting together to play video games or go out and have eight or 10 guys at a pool or something. I think they learned that nobody is going to be immune to this. If you are in the wrong situation and don't protect yourself, you have potential to get the virus."
It's a lesson the team appears to have taken to heart. Going into preseason camp last week, no players tested positive, though they were scheduled Wednesday for what will be weekly tests leading up to the season.
"We had a couple of instances where guys were still traveling, going places and not being disciplined," senior linebacker Justin Hughes said of the June outbreak, which actually happened after all the players initially tested negative upon their return to campus. "So we feel like when a bunch of guys tested positive it was an outbreak here and we were like, 'Man, there weren't many cases before we got here and now all these cases are popping up. We have to be disciplined, guys.'
"It was like a heads-up to all the guys on the team when we got back (in August) that if we want to do this thing, we've got to do it for real. So we've got to do what we must to do what we want to do."
On the practice field, that means helmet face shields and wearing masks or gaiters, plus social distancing. Off the field, there are other protocols in effect.
Those measures also have provided some peace of mind to the players, who have expressed their desire to play this fall. That wish became a reality — barring any unforeseen road blocks — when the Big 12 announced Wednesday that it will proceed with the season next month.
"Just realistically speaking, in June we figured out how fast this virus can spread," senior quarterback Skylar Thompson said. "I think that is something to be noted and be aware of.
"I wouldn't say necessarily that we're scared or fearful of it. It's more so of like this is something that we're really going to have to be cognizant of and not take lightly."
So far, senior safety Jonathan Alexander is the only player to opt out of the season, and he had a redshirt year available. Alexander tested positive for the virus in June and said he did not feel comfortable returning to the field this year.
Klieman credited the team's medical staff for providing suitable safety guidelines and the upperclassmen and team leaders for helping reinforce them.
"We didn't have any positive tests, which told us that the protocols that are in place here are extremely, extremely good," he said. "You could tell that the guys were really cautious about making sure that they weren't the guy that would be getting somebody sick."
Hughes agreed that there is a heightened awareness as the season approaches.
"Our coaches have preached to us daily about putting our masks up, stand six feet apart (and) social distancing when we're outside of the (Vanier) complex," he said. "We've taken it seriously (since the June outbreak), and guys don't want to be that guy that starts an outbreak on the team.
"We're trying to prevent that from happening, prevent anybody from feeling bad and prevent anybody from getting hurt — mentally or physically — from the virus."