lsuauburnfootball.091618_HS_2784

LSU director of athletic training Jack Marucci puts a wet towel on LSU offensive lineman Austin Deculus (76) as he sits with other linemen in front of misting fans during a timeout in the first half against Auburn, Saturday, September 15, 2018, at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

The LSU athletic training facility is quiet, real quiet.

On any normal March morning, the room might have had a casual bustle: a handful of athletes receiving treatment for recent bang-ups and injuries, other healthy players just sitting around, their voices filling the room with jokes and chatter and laughter.

Instead, the facility is nearly empty.

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Throughout the week, about four to five athletes from all LSU's sports would trickle in during the morning, LSU athletic training director Jack Marucci said, and maybe four to five more would come through in the afternoon.

On Thursday, even those those athletes left campus for spring break, a usual term that seems all too unusual now that LSU has canceled all in-person classes through the end of the semester.

This is all that's left after the spread of the novel coronavirus forced the NCAA, the collegiate athletic conferences and their member schools to shut down all athletic activities a week ago.

As the global pandemic looms and as the number of positive cases continues to soar exponentially (537 positive cases in Louisiana, 14 deaths, as of Friday morning), an exodus of LSU students has returned home. 

The locker room has been cleaned out. The weight room is closed. The athletic training facility is one of the only remaining outposts for athletes who have stayed behind.

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LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said on a conference call Monday that although the school has advised students to return home, some students might not have stable homes. There are some athletes that "staying here is in their best interest," and the training room would remain open so athletes can get medical attention and medical care.

For now, Marucci said, the training room is run from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. by a "skeleton crew" of himself, athletic training director Micki Collins, associate athletic trainer Derek Calvert and athletic trainer Gabby Arancio.

"We're here if they need anything," Marucci said.

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No, this doesn't mean the LSU training staff would become the foremost medical authority if a lingering athlete showed symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

But if a player were to approach the athletic trainers about their symptoms, Marucci said, they would check the symptoms just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would, and then appropriately refer the player to a partnered team physician for screening at a local clinic.

Woodward estimated there were just more than 120 LSU players remaining on campus Monday, a number he expected to decrease as the days passed. Of those remaining, Marucci said there are few who need any medical attention.

"We're actually in a very fortunate situation because we had such a healthy year," he said.

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When the football team held its last spring practice March 10, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said five players were held out with injuries.

Fullback/tight end Tory Carter and outside linebacker Soni Fonua were set to miss the spring with undisclosed injuries, early enrollee and five-star tight end Arik Gilbert was out after undergoing shoulder surgery, and safety Todd Harris was still recovering from a knee injury he suffered against Northwestern State in the 2019 season.

Early enrollee and five-star cornerback Elias Ricks was also limited in practice after he had surgery on a torn labrum he played through as a senior at IMG Academy in 2019.

Most players have returned home, Marucci said, and continued offseason training on their own with weightlifting plans given out by strength coach Tommy Moffitt.

None of the home-bound players are in need of extended injury rehabilitation — "Fortunately we're not in that position," Marucci said — but if a player suddenly needed such medical attention, the training staff would "contact the right individuals to help us out."

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Meanwhile, the athletic training staff continues to focus on its sports medicine research projects. It is an innovative staff that has studied how to quickly bring down dangerous internal temperature and found an ACL recovery procedure that cuts down rehabilitation nearly twice as fast the average athlete.

Marucci said the training staff began conducting more studies in late January, and now, with no practices going on, the staff has more time to catch up on analyzing all of its data.

"You put your efforts in something else that needed to be done anyhow," Marucci said, "and it lets you be a little more efficient there too."

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An uncertain future remains ahead with all athletics across the country.

With nearly every American league shut down or suspended, there isn't yet assurance that football season will be untouched by the virus once August arrives.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said Thursday that spring football practice could technically still resume once the league reaches its April 15 suspension deadline, but the "window is pretty narrow."

For now, the league is preparing for a football season as scheduled, and one of LSU's last remaining athletic outposts waits and watches.

"I think we'll have a better picture within the next three weeks to see how this all will play out," Marucci said.

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.