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Ryan Day feels OK after contracting COVID-19 but anguished over outbreak among Buckeyes

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Ryan Day said Saturday that he is resting comfortably at home.

That may describe how the Ohio State football coach feels physically after testing positive for COVID-19 as part of an outbreak among the Buckeyes that prompted them to cancel Saturday's game at Illinois.

Emotionally, however, Day is struggling.

For months, he has lived mostly isolated from his wife and three children, staying in a room that's separate from the rest of their house in Delaware County. For months, he preached every day to his team about the need to be vigilant against the coronavirus.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day, watching from the sideline against Rutgers on Nov. 7, lobbied hard that a season be played this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Day was one of the Big Ten coaches who fought hard to have a season. On Tuesday, the Buckeyes were voted No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. With a soft schedule the rest of the way, there was every reason to believe Ohio State would return to the playoff.

But Tuesday was the last day the Buckeyes would stave off COVID. On Wednesday, a program that had, according to team physician Jim Borchers, “essentially no” positive cases got some. By Friday afternoon, Ohio State had announced that Day was among them. By Friday evening, the school decided to cancel its game against the Fighting Illini.

Now the Buckeyes' season is at a critical point, and Day didn't try to sugarcoat it.

“It's been a very, very emotional and difficult week for everybody in the program,” Day said on a conference call that included Borchers and athletic director Gene Smith. “You think about Thanksgiving and being away from our families. And then this increase this week in positivities that to this point we've done an unbelievable job of (preventing). I couldn't be prouder of the way our entire organization has handled it.”

But COVID-19 is unrelenting throughout the country. In Ohio, Franklin County is the hardest hit in the state.

“The thing that we fear the most every time (is when) the test results come back,” Day said. “You hold your breath every day to see what's going on and how your team is doing. And here we are this week. ...

“To those who've tested positive, our concern is obviously with (those) players and the staff. Obviously, the team has been through a lot this week.”

Ryan Day, getting his point across during the Rutgers game on Nov. 7, told his team, "It's just another opportunity to work through adversity and learn more about yourselves. That's the only way that I can really put a positive spin on it right now, because nothing about this is good."

Day said OSU's focus now is to maintain the health of those who tested positive. Borchers said none of the affected players and staff has required “significant” medical attention.

Based on the Big Ten's protocols, Day will stay in quarantine for 10 days. He won't be able to coach Saturday at Michigan State, if the Buckeyes are able to play. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who also is the associate head coach, would lead the team in East Lansing.

“Larry is doing a great job and so are the other assistant coaches,” Day said.

Day will remain involved. He said he would conduct a virtual staff meeting and a team meeting later Saturday.

“I just want to thank Ryan,” Smith said. “I can't begin to share with you how hard his job is, particularly now. It's beyond describing.

“We have a great leader in him. We have great leaders in the rest of our coaches, and we have great kids. Our objective every day is to help them give them the opportunity to do what they want to do, and that's to play the game they love.”

If that's to happen, the Buckeyes will have to do it without their coach being physically present for a while.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day, on the sideline during the Nebraska game Oct. 24, won't be able to coach Saturday at Michigan State because he must be quarantined for 10 days after contracting COVID-19, per Big Ten rules.

“I'm resting comfortably, but I have an extremely heavy heart,” Day said, adding that making difficult sacrifices for months and then to have an outbreak is devastating.

“I can't sit here and tell you it's anything other than really, really hard,” he said. "But like I told the team, it's just another opportunity to work through adversity and learn more about yourselves. That's the only way that I can really describe and put a positive spin on it right now, because nothing about this is good.

“But I guess it's just going to make us tougher. It's going to make us stronger. It's going to make our young men better husbands, better fathers. I really believe that going through all this is going to make us all stronger. But that doesn't mean it's been easy. It doesn't mean it's been any fun at all.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch