University of Miami tight end Brevin Jordan, 19, lives near the Las Vegas strip with his two brothers and a mother just like him: upbeat, charismatic and full of energy.
But that strip is “completely dark now,” said Beverly Jordan. And until the coronavirus pandemic hit the world with a force that is multiplying daily, Jordan — sent home indefinitely with the rest of his teammates to hunker down with their families and this Monday begin their college classes online — never imagined life without football.
“He still doesn’t,” corrected Jordan’s mom, Beverly, a Realtor who is vigilant about keeping her children safe but nonetheless savoring the family time. “Most kids his age are optimistic. They think everything is going to be back to normal in no time. For Brevin, there is not life without football.’’
The Miami Herald spoke with eight parents representing six UM football players and asked them what life is like being the parent of a college football player in the age of COVID-19, the trigger for canceling all NCAA-related sports activities through the 2019-2020 academic year. They spoke of their fears and how their children are digesting this unprecedented situation and life, at least for now, without football.
“He misses it. Oh my God. He misses football so much. He’s going insane,’’ said Timico Harley, mother of Canes slot receiver Mike Harley, a soon-to-be-senior. “He says his life is not normal anymore.’’
Mike and Timico Harley
Mike Harley Sr. and his wife Timico live in Lauderhill and have six daughters, four of whom were adopted, and two sons. The oldest is Mike Jr., 22, who lives by himself in an off-campus apartment. He is UM’s top returning wideout, with 38 catches for 485 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, when the Hurricanes finished a disappointing 6-7.
Harley returned home early this past week.
“The hardest part for me is this virus and what’s going on in the world,’’ said Mike Sr., a supervisor for Alsco Linen. “I worry more about him now. We talked about it and he understands how serious it is. I said, ‘I’d rather you be home with us because I can see if you’re OK.’ All his friends left so nobody could check on him.
“He’s worried, too. He’s like, ‘Dad, you don’t know when this is going to be over with. I can’t play football. I can’t work out with other players.’ I said, ‘Welcome to retirement.’’’
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Mike Sr. said his wiry, quick-moving son is “used to working and working and working.’’
“You can run Mike all night long and he won’t get tired. But the coaches don’t want them in gymnasiums doing workouts because of the virus and how crazy it is. Can’t afford them to get germs and get sick.”
Timico is a hair stylist in Fort Lauderdale. But lots of people are canceling these days. Mike, she said, will be doing pullups on the dip bar he bought for his door at home, and lifting weights with 50-pound barbells.
“He grew up in Riverland park right off Davie Boulevard and he’ll run there,’’ Timico said. “I get emails from [UM football] saying ‘Keep your kids safe and don’t let them go out. Keep them clean. Teach them how to sanitize their cars.’ Michael cleaned his car with antibacterial wipes.”
Timico said her son wants to be a broadcaster one day and reads a lot, watches a lot of film and “all the ESPN channels with football or basketball.”
He’s also eating a lot, a universal theme mentioned by the parents interviewed. “Mike has a real heavy appetite,’’ Timico said. “Seafood, pasta, potatoes and spaghetti are his favorites.”
And though Harley will be luxuriating in plenty of massages from his little sisters, mom said, he’s always thinking about his team.
“They say this thing could go to July or August,’’ she said. “I hope they have a season. He needs football in his life.’’
Will Mallory, the 6-5, 240-pound Hurricane whose elite talent was utilized plenty during the four days of UM spring practice that preceded spring break and the cancellation of spring sports, is back home in Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville.
Will’s mother, Kim, manages a nonprofit scholarship for high school senior volunteers who work with the elderly in senior housing developments. Will’s father, Mike, is a former Michigan football star and current Jacksonville Jaguars’ assistant special teams coordinator. Will’s sister, Kathryn, studies architecture in graduate school at Michigan.
All four are together now.
“As nice as it is to have both Will and my daughter home, it’s different,’’ Kim said. “We’ve gone from an empty house to a full one because everyone is working from home. Mike is watching film and evaluating for the draft.
“I know Will’s biggest concern is the football stopping and making sure he’s up to speed when they resume — hopefully sooner than later.”
Kim said UM strength and conditioning coach David Feeley has sent individualized workout programs based on what players have available. “He works out in the garage,’’ she said. “He’s been lifting and running every morning. Coach [Manny] Diaz said to stay away from gyms, and do what you’re told.”
Kim said tight ends coach Stephen Field has kept in close contact with Will, who will soon be a junior, and that director of football operations Don Corzine sends out updates.
“I’m a pretty laid back person,’’ Kim said. “I hope we can flatten this [COVID-19] curve to enable the hospitals to handle everything. Having the kids home is an unexpected pleasure for me because I miss them. At the same time, this isn’t really where their minds are or where they want to be.
“I’m an optimist so I believe they’ll be back at practice at some point, although it might not be until the summer. This is unprecedented for all of us. My 98-year-old grandmother is nearby and isolated in independent living. I worry more about her.’’
Kim concurred with the other parents about one of her biggest challenges now: feeding Will.
“Usually I go to the grocery store once a week,’’ she said earlier this week. “I’ve been there three times in the last three days. I don’t want it to seem like I’m hoarding food, but I need it for him.”
John Campbell Sr., the father of 19-year-old rising redshirt sophomore offensive tackle John Jr., works in construction and lives in Orlando with his wife Lesa. Their daughter, Jennifer, is a fourth-grade teacher for the Orange County Public Schools and is now in her own house.
A year ago during a May community service event, John Jr. told reporters he had a list of about a dozen goals hanging throughout his home, including the bathroom. “Be a good team player’’ and ‘’get stronger, get faster and get more wisdom of the game — and do whatever coach asks,’’ were some of the main ones.
Now, this 6-5, 301-pound lineman is doing what he can in Orlando, where even nearby Walt Disney World has been shut down.
“He drove home with a friend Monday,’’ John Sr. said. “He realizes the severity of all this and is very cautious. None of us have ever experienced anything like this. It’s like, ‘What’s going on?’
“The players are just anxious to get going. John started out the first four practices doing well. He’ll continue to lift and run to stay in shape.’’
Deloris and Mohamed ElGammal
Deloris ElGammal, the mother of soon-to-be redshirt freshman offensive lineman Adam, 19, is a New York lawyer who recently was a professor of “ethics of engagement” and “community learning’’ at SUNY Westbury. She and her husband Mohamed live in Long Island on Baldwin Bay — “the water is in our backyard’’— and are currently exploring moving to South Florida to be near Adam and his sister, Lames (pronounced LaMEES), who is about to graduate from Brown University and has already secured a future job in Miami.
All four were planning to be together this weekend, as Lames was already sent home from Brown because of the pandemic, and Adam had a flight scheduled for Sunday. Until then, the 6-4, 298-pound tackle will be one of the few student-athletes still on campus in a dorm, as nearly the entire campus has been cleared out.
“I had just arrived on March 6,’’ Deloris said of the final day of spring practice and day before the students were released for spring break. “Things started getting weird about the coronavirus toward the end of the week and I was rushing around to Costco trying to make sure Adam had enough water and food. I bought him a crock pot so he could cook food in his room. I disinfected his room and washed down everything you could think of.
“Then, at some point the school said the students couldn’t have guests in the dorms after March 15. So I left after March 15 and said, ‘Oh my God. When am I going to see my son again?’”
Deloris and Mohamed, a personal strength and conditioning coach for college athletes, decided the safest decision was to be together. “I want my son home,’’ Mohamed said. “It’s very important to keep the family together. This way we can monitor everything and keep it under control. The way things are changing every second, it’s very difficult to tell what’s happening.
“Once he gets here he can concentrate on his schoolwork. It’s a difficult time now. We all have to chip in and help each other.’’
Deloris said her son described UM as “a ghost town.’’
“There’s nothing happening,’’ she said. “There’s no one there. Of course he’s happy to be coming home, but his worry is he doesn’t want to leave and miss something with football. Right now you can’t do anything anyway. The safest and most logical thing is to come home and be safe with your family.’’
Deloris said the coaching staff has been in contact with the parents. “We got a text message from Coach Diaz basically acknowledging they were finishing spring break and who could have imagined we’d be in this type of situation. He told everybody to be safe and vigilant, and he’s concerned obviously with students who need academic support because they want to make sure everyone is doing well.’’
Deloris said she’s in a Facebook group “with the Miami mothers’’ and is receiving lots of information. “Everybody is nervous,’’ she said. “Everybody is scared. We all want to make sure our sons are safe and doing what is necessary with regards to football and everything else.
“It’s actually very stressful.’’
Oshala Payton is the mother of 18-year-old Jeremiah, a 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman considered one of UM’s most promising young wide receivers. They’re now together at their home in Jacksonville.
“I don’t think he truly realizes the big effect of this virus,’’ said Oshala (pronounced AHshala), a senior operations specialist with JP Morgan Chase. “They don’t hunker down until their parents say, ‘You need to hunker down.’
“Jeremiah is like, ‘This is crazy, Ma,’ with a look of despair in his eyes. He’s like, ‘I’m ready. What’s going on?’ I just tell him, ‘We’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to be safe.’’’
Oshala said Thursday that receivers coach Rob Likens had checked on Jeremiah and texted her to make sure everything was fine and assure her that her son had done well academically. “Jeremiah was headed to the beach to work out and run and do agility exercises.”
Oshala indicated her son’s ability to eat voraciously is always kind of shocking. “He can eat about seven to eight times a day,’’ she said. “I don’t know where it goes. I’ve never seen somebody 190-something pounds eat that much. He loves mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, fried ribs and baked beans. I get him his vegetables as long as he has meat with them.’’
She said her son was so excited about the four spring practice sessions that he sent her videos and pictures and said, “Mom, did you see me in practice?’’
“I just said, ‘Stay on your toes, stay balanced and go up to the highest peak.’
“I hope the best for the boys and that they have an amazing season, regardless of what’s going on.’’
Beverly, the mom of nationally heralded Brevin, a rising junior who was one of three finalists for the 2019 Mackey Award that goes to the top tight end in the nation, said all three of her sons are “kicking and screaming because they can’t leave the house.’’
Brevin caught 35 passes for 495 yards and two touchdowns last season in nine games through Florida State on Nov. 2, when he injured his left foot. He technically played in 11 games, but the injury prevented him from ultimately participating and he is now continuing with his rehab workouts at home after undergoing surgery in January.
“Since Brevin left for college, he’s only been able to be home for two, three, four days at a time,’’ Beverly said. “And that was only maybe three or four times a year. This has been great for us because with all three boys together it’s just a whole different level of completeness.
“But Brevin has never seen Vegas like this. So much gloom and doom out there. Our strip is completely dark, Airports abandoned. All the stores and restaurants shut down.
“So, we have no choice but to take this seriously. We are all in our house and the only thing we have control of is our perspective and attitude. They’re giving Brevin workout regimens. He’ll work out at home, because he’s not going anywhere near a gym. Not now. No way.”
Beverly said that Brevin, who loves to act and is majoring in theater, still walks through their home playing imaginary football.
“He’s always doing a quick juke or raising his arms and pretending he’s catching a ball,’’ she said, laughing.
Brevin’s grandmother is “full-blooded Korean,’’ Beverly said, so his mom is cooking “way more Korean food’’ such as favorites Bulgogi (sweet, fiery beef) and Kimchi (spicy cabbage) and rice, since Brevin arrived home to join brothers O’Shay, 22, and Jalen, 17.
“I’m like, ‘What? Are they starving you at Miami?’’’
She said the blessing for her at this frightening time is to have her family in one place. “I finally have quality time with my family,’’ Beverly said. “I just believe that no matter what, God makes a way for us.’’