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Nebraska’s Dave Ellis is Running a Complex Drive-Thru

April 05, 2020

It’s one thing to be in shape. It’s an entirely different thing to be in football shape.

College football coaches will want to ensure their kids fall into the latter camp, but that’s a little difficult right now. Earlier this week, the NCAA put out a COVID-19 Q&A guide on what teams can and cannot do while athletic operations are shut down. That guide spelled out that coaches or any other staff members aren’t allowed to “supervise or conduct” any voluntary workouts for student-athletes and that players “may not report voluntary athletically-related activities to institutional coaches or staff members.”

No work with strength coach Zach Duval. No work with new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick. No work with [insert coach’s name].

But staying in shape isn’t just about working out. And most who make it to Nebraska, or Division I for that matter, at least have a baseline level know-how when it comes to working out. The harder challenge during this period for programs around the country is making sure their players are getting the right nutrition at the right time.

Some programs around the country are sending care packages to student-athletes.

Dave Ellis, Nebraska’s director of performance nutrition, and others on his team have completely overhauled the Training Table in short order to tackle the issue in a more robust way.

“It’s been fluid to say the least,” Ellis said this past week on the Husker Football Show. “We’ve been following federal and state guidelines on precautions that need to be taken during the (COVID-19) crisis that have taken us from our normal service at the Training Table where the athletes can serve themselves eventually to the curb where we hand-deliver prepackaged food for a day to the athletes when they pull up.”

Essentially, Ellis is running one of the most complex drive-thru services in the state.

"We tell our recruits and our players all the time Nebraska's always been about developing student-athletes and people better than anybody else," head coach Scott Frost said on the Husker Sports Network this past week. "And we couldn't do it if we didn't have the best of the best.”

Any student-athlete who puts in an order, as many as 200 a day, can pull up in front of West Stadium and get a full day’s worth of meals shoved through their car window.

“It’s a seven-day a week operation,” Ellis said.

Two teams of 20-25 people are working to prepare everything. They’re on three-day shifts before switching out. Ellis expects the volume to start rising as the calendar creeps closer to the June, July, August months. What will happen with fall sports is anyone’s guess at this point, but Ellis’ team has to prepare as if everyone is coming back and keep them ready to return to competition once they do.

“We’re trying to keep our kids in the best possible shape, so when they come back and start training and competing again, we don’t have nutrient deficiencies, we don’t have kids who put on extra weight or got sick for an extended period of time,” said Lisa Kopecky, the assistant director of performance nutrition.

And without direct supervision of a coaching staff or universal training regiments, everyone is needing something a little more tailored than normal.

“There are some athletes that are always conscious of their body mass, so we actually have less or more meals for different individuals when they drive through,” Ellis said. “We’re in a constant state of communication when they pull up.”

“We’ve just simply asked our athletes not to congregate. Going outside for a walk or a jog is not really a bad thing right now, but they do not have their normal resources available to them.”

What one person can do with a jog and an at-home routine, another might need a rack of weights.  If a student-athlete has questions about what they should be doing, Ellis is providing answers as well.

Nebraska has sick bags for roommates to deliver to anyone feeling under the weather—canned soup, crackers, electrolytes—and hand wipes with instructions on how to properly clean surfaces in their home.

“Some of the things we’re trying to do is hand out a Purell wipe when they pull up to pick up their meals with instructions from Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services explaining high-touch surface areas they need to pay attention to when they’re cleaning their environment,”Kopecky said. “We’re asking them to wipe down the inside of their car every day. Many of our student athletes haven’t prepared with actual cleaning supplies at home, so they’re frantic and they’re looking for opportunities to get a hold of these things.”

With so much of the response to this worldwide pandemic being a moving target, things are changing daily. What’s working now might not work in May, or next week for that matter. As of Saturday, Nebraska had 336 confirmed cases of the virus, up from 49 just two weeks ago.

Ellis said the Huskers haven’t encountered any food shortage issues yet from suppliers, but they’re putting safeguards in place should that pop up down the line. Everyone knows the importance of what they’re doing.

“I think this is really unique to the Midwest, the work ethic, the commitment of our personnel, the full-time employees, to continue to supply and help our athletes,” Ellis said. “This is not probably happening every place. I think it’s actually pretty unique. I think it’s something we can be really proud of.”

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