Jaguars hope an army of sanitizers will save the football season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It took a couple of days before Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon realized what was missing from training camp. And it wasn't the spectators.

It was the stench.

The smell of sweat mixed with dirt and grass, which used to cling to his shoulder pads and hit his nose nearly every time he put them on before heading out to practice, was gone. Instead, the pads smelled like they came straight out of the box.

"You don't have that stink," Herndon said. "You can kind of smell that last practice stink on some of your pads sometimes, but they clean them pretty thoroughly, so they just smell like a fresh pair of pads."

He has the coronavirus pandemic to thank for that. The Jaguars, like every NFL team, have ramped up their cleaning protocols to attempt to keep the virus out of the team facility and from infecting players, staff and employees. Part of that includes sanitizing equipment used during practice.

Blocking sleds, blocking pads, garbage cans, hand pads, QB dummies. Spray one side. Flip. Spray the other side. Let dry. Sanitizing the on-field equipment is done by members of the equipment staff using a backpack sprayer filled with a disinfectant called Clorox 360. The footballs get sprayed with a product called Level 1 Health hand sanitizer, which is 80% alcohol, because the Clorox 360 would be too harsh on the leather.

That's just a small part of the overall cleaning protocols that engulf, well, almost everything. Locker rooms. Restrooms. Showers. The weight room. Offices. Meeting rooms. Pretty much anywhere people gather gets cleaned and sanitized daily.

"You can kind of smell that last practice stink on some of your pads sometimes, but they clean them pretty thoroughly, so they just smell like a fresh pair of pads." Jaguars corner Tre Herndon

Scott Trulock, the Jaguars' director of player health and performance and their infection control officer, said three janitorial companies sanitize the facility daily and electrostatically spray Clorox 360 and cover more than 115,000 square feet.

To put that in perspective: A football field (including both end zones) is approximately 57,600 square feet. So the janitorial companies are covering roughly two football fields with sanitizer. The entire process, Trulock said, takes about eight hours. Every day.

"While we know we cannot completely stop the virus, our efforts are focused on using all resources possible to clean touched surfaces, minimize close-contact exposures and isolate any potential infections," Trulock said. "Mitigation of COVID is only possible with the contributions of every player, coach, staff member and administrator of the Jaguars."

It appears to be working. The Jaguars had an NFL-high 12 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Aug. 3, but they have just one remaining on the list (offensive lineman Ryan Pope). The NFL said Monday it had administered 58,397 COVID-19 tests to 23,260 players and 35,137 other personnel from Aug. 12 to 20, and not a single player tested positive. (There were six confirmed positives among the other personnel.)

If that trend continues and the NFL is able to pull off a 16-game season, the people toiling daily to clean facilities deserve a lot of credit, Jaguars receiver Chris Conley said.

"You definitely can smell the cleaning product," Conley said. "I just want to give a humongous shoutout to the people who have been in this building tirelessly day in and day out, early in the morning, hours before we get here, late at night when we leave, and just making sure this a safe place for us. It's not an easy job, and there's a lot of hoops that people have to jump through right now and they're doing their best to make it so that we don't notice it.

"I want to thank those guys, because without them, we wouldn't be able to play a season right now. It wouldn't be safe for us to be in the building."

There's an ancillary benefit to the additional cleaning and sanitizing too. Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said the team has had three players get non-COVID-19 illnesses. Last year at this time, Marrone said the number was 29.

And it sounds like he might want to keep the cleaning protocols in place permanently.

"I kind of think, 'Why the hell weren't we doing it before?'" Marrone said. "To a certain extent. When I got that report the other day about just the [three] colds ... I was like, wow. And I'm trying to figure out, OK, why is that? Is it because we're washing our hands more, everything's sanitized -- the building, the filters, the circulation of air and all that stuff? I'm thinking of all the colds I had in the past, and it pisses me off.

"What you find in life and in anything that you do, you put an emphasis on something, usually you can get things done. Again, I think there are things that we're finding out and learning in a positive way. We could all look at the negative stuff, but there are things that we're looking at in a positive way that I think is going to be beneficial for us moving forward for years to come."