OU football: For Lincoln Riley's Sooners, face masks are essential part of uniform
NORMAN — It doesn’t take an entire practice, especially in the August heat, for Charleston Rambo’s mask to be dripping wet.
“You’ve got to wring out the sweat, put it back on,” the OU wide receiver said. “But we’ve been wearing it so long, we kinda got used to it.”
Unlike many other programs around the country, the Sooners extend their mask-wearing far beyond the locker rooms and team meetings.
Face masks have become another essential part of OU’s uniform.
And if a player drops his down for more than to grab a quick drink of water, he’s going to hear about it.
“If you have your mask down for more than two seconds, somebody’s gonna tell you to pull your mask up,” linebacker DaShaun White said.
OU might not be alone in practicing in masks, but they haven’t been joined by many other programs.
Practice photos posted by other Big 12 programs don’t show masks used during practice, and in some cases show coaches with their masks pulled down under their chins while they yell out instruction. Several programs are using clear shields for at least some of their players.
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It’s not just coaches pushing mask discipline at OU, the players are policing themselves.
“We want to play,” White said. “It’s one of those things, it’s just the circumstance. It’s just the obstacle we have to get over.
“Do we wanna be people that allowed a mask to keep us from playing the game we love? That’s how I see it.”
Iowa State initially turned to outside companies to produce a shield, but not finding one that was suitable, the program instead turned toward its school’s engineering program.
The result was the “Cyclone Shield” — a polycarbonate shield similar to the clear visors that some players wear to protect their eyes. The shield covers the lower part of the facemask and is designed to keep exhalations that go directly toward other players, especially in situations where they’re lined up at the line of scrimmage.
Iowa State made the manufacturing information public so that other programs could produce the same shield.
OU experimented with several possibilities before settling on wearing the masks — much like the masks that many people wear daily during the pandemic — tight to the face underneath their facemasks.
“We initially did the cloth covering over the face mask,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “Not bad as far as breathing. … It really limits the vision, which is dangerous. We have experimented with the plastic shield that’s over the face and face mask. Again, breathing wise, not awful there from what we have been told by our players. Biggest issue is that fogging up.”
There was also a concern if the shields were worn in less-than-ideal weather.
“What’s your answer if you get in a game where it’s raining or you’re dealing with elements,” Riley said.
So they went back to the masks.
“It doesn’t get knocked off. It doesn’t fog up,” Riley said.
They did require an adjustment, though. During camp, Riley said the staff had to give the players more breaks and rotate more often as players acclimated to wearing the masks but said it hasn’t affected practice beyond that.
“As far as games, haven’t received much guidance on that yet on what’s going to be required, but if given up to us, we are going to have our faces covered some way, somehow,” Riley said. “The health of the student-athlete being priority No. 1 and there’s no replacement for having a mask or something that acts as a mask on at any point.”