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Parental Perspective: Families have faith in Florida, Mullen

October 15, 2020
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As details of the Gators’ COVID-19 outbreak broke on Tuesday and Wednesday, coach Dan Mullen received plenty of backlash and criticism from the national media and fans of other teams.

Just days earlier, Mullen made some frustrated and emotionally charged comments regarding the large and boisterous crowd at Texas A&M. The attendance was listed as 24,709, but it seemed a bit larger than that to a lot of people who watched the game, including Mullen. So, Mullen challenged the UF administration to allow 90,000 fans to pack the Swamp for the game with LSU. Of course, that game was postponed to Dec. 12.

While there may be a national perception that Mullen doesn’t take health protocols seriously, those whose opinions matter most – the parents of the players – have nothing but positive things to say about the way his program has handled the outbreak.

“I think people are making too big of a deal of that,” said Avery Helm, the father of the freshman cornerback of the same name. “I think we came down, we played at A&M, and their crowd sitting on our side, there were a lot of people behind Florida’s bench. Then I can see where the coach would want to, ‘Hey, I want to get the Gators excited about playing in the Swamp on Saturday.’ So, I just took it that that’s what he meant.”

A mother, who will remain anonymous due to privacy concerns related to her son’s positive COVID test this week, said she doesn’t think Mullen meant what he said when he asked for 90,000 fans to be at the next home game. She thinks he was disappointed by only having around 15,000 fans at the first home game with a couple of thousand unsold tickets and exaggerated to make a point.

“I think he was thinking in reference to maybe having another five-to-ten thousand to make it seem like it was 90,000,” she said. “I don’t think he actually meant that he wanted to pack 90,000 people in there. I feel like Coach Mullen knows that that would put a lot of people’s health in danger.”

“I think that you couldn’t have done anything better. That’s one of the assurances that we’ve always had when Avery committed and signed with Florida was that family atmosphere that really had him and us gravitating to [them]. It’s there. They’re all in this together. It has really been just top-notch. The communication has been just phenomenal. We couldn’t have asked for a better situation, and that’s why we feel so comfortable with Avery with what’s going on there. We know he’s getting the best care, so we’re very comfortable with it.”
- Avery Helm Sr.

Mike Braun, the father of freshman offensive lineman Josh Braun, thinks the Gators did everything they could to prevent an outbreak, but there’s only so much you can do. This virus is simply an obstacle that you have to workaround.

“I think inevitable is a good way to describe it,” Braun said. “I mean, virus is going to virus. There’s not much you can do if you look at the information that’s coming out all over the country and maybe all over the world. I think that Florida’s taken the most reasonable steps as you can expect to try to avoid it, but it is a virus, and I wouldn’t expect that somebody not get it and somebody get it. The expectation is pretty good that [an outbreak is] what’s going to happen.”

The anonymous mother said she thought the Gators had done such a great job with taking the appropriate precautions and following protocols that she was stunned when she heard about the outbreak. She hopes that this serves as a learning opportunity for everyone involved.

“It seemed as though they kind of had control of the situation,” she said. “I’m assuming that some of these guys still don’t realize the danger of this infectious disease that’s so easily transmitted and so contagious. But I thought maybe they had them grew up a little bit to realize that if you don’t have to go out, stay home. If you don’t have to be at certain places, don’t go. Wear your mask.

“It wasn’t as if I didn’t think anything could ever happen, it was that I thought they were taking so much precaution to make sure that it didn’t happen, and it seemed as though they were doing a pretty good job taking the necessary precautions to be safe and be protected from being infected.”

Her son, who is an offensive starter, is experiencing mild symptoms, including a cough and a runny nose.

“[He] called me,” she said. “He said, ‘Mama, I got bad news.’ I said, ‘Well, what happened?’ COVID just did not enter my mind. When he said, ‘I tested positive,’ I was like, ‘Oh my God’ because when you hear it, it’s almost like a moment of fear. You fear the worst of it at that particular time.”

Shortly after his test came back positive, head athletic trainer Paul Silvestri and his position coach called her to let her know how they’re going to handle it. They have remained in regular contact with the family since then and have provided updates.

Mr. Helm found out about the outbreak directly from the coaches. He thinks UF has handled everything about as well as could be expected from a communication standpoint.

“The coaches have been very informative throughout this whole process,” Helm said. “They’ve kept us abreast of everything that’s going on with the program and also concerning our son. The communication has been just incredible.”

Mullen conducted a Zoom call with the parents on Tuesday night to inform them about what was happening. Braun didn’t attend the Zoom meeting, but he thinks the Gators’ staff has been more open to communication than he expects.

“I think they handled everything as fair and above board as they can,” Braun said. “One of the problems with this is the idea that you’re going to overcommunicate. I know that sounds weird, but you don’t want people getting a bunch of differing information. You want to be able to come out with a succinct message that comes across. I felt like they did that. I’m really happy with the way they’re handling the Zoom meetings. I think that’s a unique and interesting way to do it.”

Braun said he doesn’t expect to get updates on every little thing that happens to his son. He thinks Josh in a mature adult who’s capable of handling his own business, and he trusts Florida’s staff to handle any issues that might arise.

“We kind of have always been of the mindset that ‘If you don’t trust the program to do the right thing, then you probably shouldn’t have your kid there,’” he said. “In this situation, maybe it’s more extreme, but it’s still the same rules apply. We trust Coach [John] Hevesy, we trust Coach Mullen, we trust their medical staff, from top to bottom. No different than when I got a call because Josh had to go see the trainer and they took him to see Dr. [Kevin] Farmer, and that’s a doctor that we would’ve taken Josh to when he lived with us. My point is that we trust what they’re doing implicitly.”

Despite the string of more than 20 positive tests over the past few days, the parents believe that UF has established and followed the best health and safety protocols possible. While they’re always concerned for their kids’ long-term health as parents, this week’s events haven’t increased their sense of worry.

Braun thinks the Gators have done a good job of testing the players regularly, enforcing mask rules, and creating social distancing.

Helm works in law enforcement while his wife, Stacey Helm, works in the medical field, so he knows first-hand how contagious the virus can be and the importance of following protocols. He gives UF a passing grade for its commitment to health and safety.

“The staff, the coaches, the medical staff, and the way they’ve done the facilities and all that have just been top-notch,” he said. “The protocols and procedures they’ve put in place, it’s just been, absolute, the best. I was surprised [to see an outbreak], but at the same time, there’s only so much you can do.”

Helm said he has no concerns with the Gators’ health protocols, but he is a bit concerned with some of the things he’s seen from other SEC schools.

“I know that the SEC has guidelines, but I’ve always felt Florida’s guidelines and protocols were second to none, but when they go on the road, would they have those same types of protocols and procedures at the other universities that they play at?” he said. “Unfortunately, we were at the [Texas A&M] game, and it was just – man.”

While losing more than 20 players and two assistant coaches to COVID-19 and not being able to play for at least one week is far from ideal, the Gators’ parents feel comfortable with the environment their sons are in. The Gators’ response to this chaotic and fluid situation reaffirms what they thought they knew about the program in recruiting.

“I think that you couldn’t have done anything better,” Helm said. “That’s one of the assurances that we’ve always had when Avery committed and signed with Florida was that family atmosphere that really had him and us gravitating to [them]. It’s there. They’re all in this together. It has really been just top-notch. The communication has been just phenomenal. We couldn’t have asked for a better situation, and that’s why we feel so comfortable with Avery with what’s going on there. We know he’s getting the best care, so we’re very comfortable with it.”

Parental Perspective: Families have faith in Florida, Mullen

1,190 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 2 days ago by SFFLORIDAFAN
JayM
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Nice work Ethan.

Do we know what happened? I've heard vague references to 'players' 'going out' after the A&M game.

Ethan Hughes
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JayM said:

Nice work Ethan.

Do we know what happened? I've heard vague references to 'players' 'going out' after the A&M game.


The only explanation UF has given us is that several players had symptoms but didn't report them and traveled with the team anyway and gave the virus to others on the road trip. I don't know if there's anything to that rumor you heard. I wouldn't imagine they'd be in the mood to go out after losing like that, but you never know.
SFFLORIDAFAN
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The players who had symptoms and kept quiet should be suspended or punished.

Their being selfish is what caused this.
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