Puskar Center renovations continuing despite mass shutdowns

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the time being, all is well with the ongoing renovations at West Virginia’s Milan Puskar Center.

With construction work fitting within the “essential business” label that exempts it from Gov. Jim Justice’s stay-at-home order, there have been no stoppages in the massive overhaul underway at WVU’s football facility.

“Crews have to abide by social distancing, but work continues to be done on the Puskar Center,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said during a wide-ranging video conference with reporters on Thursday.

Brown mentioned that he hasn’t been able to view any of the most recent progress himself since he has worked from home all of this week.

So far, social distancing efforts have not forced a change in the July 2021 target date for completing the renovations.

“It’s too early to tell if it’s affecting the timeline,” Brown said.

The Puskar Center facelift covers 72,000 square feet of space, plus an additional 13,700 square feet of expansion. The project will give West Virginia a newer, bigger locker room as well as new position meeting rooms and coaches offices, among other amenities.

The overall price tag is $41 million.

Neal Brown press conference

Finding ways to get work in

With the Big 12 banning all practices and team meetings through at least March 29, all recent communication between WVU coaches and players has been virtual.

But strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph has developed three different plans for players to continue working out while they are away from the facility.

“He’s got three different types of workouts,” Brown said. “One is if guys have access to a weight room. The second is limited access — maybe a bench at their house. The third type is guys who have nothing.

“The focus is on conditioning more than anything. He’s more concerned about the running aspect.”

What will the preseason look like?

Brown considers spring to be the most valuable part of a football season because that’s where all the teaching is done.

Now he and virtually every other coach in the country are facing a similar dilemma in how to get that teaching in before the start of August training camp. Answers will not be found until the COVID-19 pandemic is mitigated, but coaches and conferences will be working with the NCAA to figure out a solution when the time comes.

“Those discussions are ongoing. Shane [Lyons] and the athletic directors have been staying consolidated on this and have been in open communication through this whole process,” Brown said. “When teams get back together, I would caution on adding to training camp. I don’t think that’s a productive answer. I don’t think that’s the most positive thing for our players.

“I think we could do [NFL] OTA-type workouts. I don’t think you would need pads, just some type of headgear to make it safer. I think you could get a lot of quality work done in that frame.”

Brown would like to make sure the playing field is level as far as how many of these workouts each team would get.

“If you’re a team that’s six practices in, you’d get nine of those workouts in,” Brown said. “If you had two, like we did, then you’d get 13 of those OTA workouts in… There’s a lot of logistics to work through to make that a reality. But I think all things are on the table right now.”

How player travel is being monitored

Brown estimates that 25-30 players stayed in Morgantown while the remainder of the team went home for spring break. Even though WVU has gone to all-online classes for the remainder of the semester, much of the team will be returning to Morgantown in coming days.

That means added vigilance.

Brown said that head trainer Vince Blankenship has provided daily briefings detailing areas that are COVID-19 hotspots. Players who return to campus from an area that is not a hotspot will have a five-day quarantine, while those who return from a hotspot will face a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Brown noted that it is a university-wide policy.

Brown also noted that freshman defensive back Jairo Faverus is one of the players who stayed in Morgantown this weekend. Faverus is a native of Amsterdam, Netherlands and travel from Europe is currently banned for non-U.S. residents.

“Coach [Jahmile] Addae, director of football operations Patrick Johnston and myself have been in almost daily communication with him,” Brown said. “He’s doing well. He did not go back home [for the break].”

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