How K-State football players are fighting off homesickness during the pandemic

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Junior defensive back D.J. Render walks into the locker room before K-State's football game against West Virginia at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 16, 2019. The Wildcats lost to the Mountaineers with a final score of 24-20. (File photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the football team is adapting to the new circumstances the best they can. For some, that includes staving off homesickness and trying to focus on football.

A lot of K-State players haven’t been home since summer practices began because of pandemic restrictions.

“I haven’t been back in Atlanta since I think July,” senior defensive back DJ Render said. “I’m a fifth-year vet in the program. I’m not really homesick at all. I’m very used to being out here.”

Render said K-State players made it a goal to be healthy enough to compete and good enough to win this season. He said focusing on those goals helped him avoid homesickness.

“It’s a blessing that I have parents that are able to come out here and travel to games. I don’t get to miss them too much. It’s always a pleasure to see them when they come,” Render said.

Render played both wide receiver and defensive back during his five years in the program. This year, he’s stepped up on offense.

Senior linebacker Justin Hughes said he’s also unable to go home to Georgia.

“I just stay at home. I come to football practice, go home and play video games. That’s what I’ve been doing, that’s my little bubble,” Hughes said. “I just get on Call of Duty and have a good day, night, whatever.”

Hughes said last spring, he spent lots of time with his family when they discovered campus closed because of the pandemic.

“It was great being with my family and I do miss them,” Hughes said. “I do okay. I call them every other week, talk to them, let them know how I’m doing. I’ve been handling it pretty well.”

Older Wildcats like Render and Hughes have also taken on the role of looking out for younger players.

“Whenever a teammate is feeling down, I like to reach out because I feel like I’m a positive spark for our players,” Render said. “I always want my teammates to feel like they can rely on me.”

When freshman defensive back TJ Smith announced via Twitter that he was out for the season due to an injury, Hughes said that Smith turned to him and fellow senior linebacker Elijah Sullivan for advice.

“Me and Eli’s locker are right beside each other in the locker room. As soon as [Smith] found out, he came straight to us asking us what he needs to do to get better, what he needs to do to immediately make himself a better player as far as coming back, and his rehab,” Hughes said.

Assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach Van Malone stood in for head coach Chris Klieman at the press conference because Klieman had a prior commitment. Malone shared a little about supporting the players through this season.

“Day-to-day, there’s challenges that our players face. When you talk about the COVID testing continually and the close contact, there’s a certain sense that you’re always on the edge because you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Malone said. “Our players, our coaches, our support staff have done a great job of circling the wagons.”

The Wildcats take on the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN2.

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Nathan Enserro
Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.