Football coaches expect to have players miss parts of preseason practice with various injuries. The sport is a physical one, so it goes with the territory.
But the last thing coach Tim Billings anticipated was having more than one-third of his Southeast Missouri State University team miss several days because of illness.
That, however, is the situation Billings and his staff found themselves in this week, due to a mysterious illness that infected not only more than 30 Southeast football players and three coaches but also three of the school's volleyball players, along with their coach, Cindy Gannon.
"We won't have over a third of our team for more than four days," Billings said prior to the Indians' Wednesday afternoon practice at Houck Stadium.
The illness, characterized by gastrointestinal symptoms, sent about two dozen athletes and coaches to the emergency room over a three-day period beginning late Saturday. Several more became sick.
Those seeking medical attention reported flu-like symptoms involving vomiting and fever. Several were treated for dehydration and all were released in a matter of hours.
Southeast spokesperson Ann Hayes said the university was told Wednesday by a communicable disease specialist with the MIssouri Department of Health that bacteria had been ruled out as a source of the illness. The state department of health will continue to test for a variety of viruses.
In the meantime, Billings is anxiously awaiting when his squad will be back at full strength. While all his assistants were back on the practice field by Tuesday, only about 12 of the stricken players had returned by Wednesday. Billings expects the majority of the remaining 20 players who were out to return by today's afternoon practice, with everybody back in uniform by Friday.
"This puts us behind, but life goes on," Billings said.
Two-a-days wind down
Illness aside, Billings said he has been generally pleased with the Indians' practices so far as two-a-day workouts head into the home stretch. Southeast will practice just once daily starting Monday, when classes begin.
"I think we've gotten a lot accomplished," said Billings, whose team began full-squad two-a-days Aug. 7.
Billings said a team can get quite a bit accomplished during the time when classes are not in session.
"They don't have to worry about classes or grades, so they can really concentrate on football," Billings said. "It allows you to do a lot of things as a team, for everybody to get to know each other, especially the new guys. You have them for the whole day, so you can get a lot done."
Middle linebacker Ricky Farmer, one of the Indians' top defensive players, likes the idea of two-a-days to promote team unity -- but he said players are never said when that period ends.
"It's good to have everybody together, not worrying about class, getting to know each other, doing things together. It's good for team chemistry," Farmer said. "But once it gets closer to the end, you're definitely ready for it to end."
"Jeromy went to see his doctor again and everything with the shoulder looks great structurally," Billings said. "He probably just went at it too hard too soon, but he should be fine."
McDowell had shoulder surgery in January and appeared to bounce back well, but the muscles in the shoulder had gotten weak in recent days so the Southeast coaching staff decided to shut him down for a while.
Andrew Winters, from Melbourne, Australia, arrived in Cape Girardeau Monday night but had yet to hit the field because he was busy with school orientation and other paperwork.
Winters showed up about an hour into Wednesday's afternoon practice. After a few minutes of warming up, and while still in street clothes, Winters began booming impressive punts, with several traveling more than 50 yards from scrimmage to go with solid hang time.
"He didn't do bad, for just getting off a plane," Billings said, smiling. "He's got some work to do, but he's got a chance to be a good one."
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