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story.lead_photo.caption Lincoln head coach Malik Hoskins talks with his players at the end of a practice last year at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. Photo by Greg Jackson / News Tribune.
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Malik Hoskins was ready for his first spring football season at Lincoln University as the Blue Tigers' full-time head coach.

Hoskins has twice been an interim head coach during his career, but after Lincoln removed the interim tag following the 2019 season, this would be his first full offseason to be in charge of running a football program.

All was going well for the first two weeks of spring practice, and then Lincoln's spring break provided a weeklong break before the final two weeks of practice, culminating with the Spring Game scheduled for March 28.

But before spring break ended, coronavirus concerns caused the suspension of spring football practice, and shortly thereafter, the cancellation of the spring football season.

"We really had a sense that it was coming," Hoskins said. "We were bracing ourselves for it. But still, it was disappointing because spring was going pretty well."

It has been more than a month since Hoskins last had a practice with his team. However, he wasn't frustrated his first full season as Lincoln's head coach was being interrupted. Like any head coach, his frustrations were less selfish.

"It was frustrating for the program and for the team," Hoskins said. "I don't worry about my frustrations. I know the kids were saying they were enjoying it. I don't think we had one kid to miss an early morning practice. We had seven before the break, and practices were at 5:30 a.m. We didn't have one kid be late to practice.

"They were starting to buy in to what we were selling. I was more disappointed for them, because they were having a really good time, the coaches had an opportunity to really hone in on the fundamentals and each kid's skill set. I'm more disappointed in the kids not being able to finish the spring, and the assistant coaches not being able to finish the job that we started."

Lincoln's spring practice schedule began Feb. 25. Hoskins said the reason the Blue Tigers started their practices earlier on the calendar than most college football programs is because the Lincoln coaching staff was going to use time after the Spring Game to visit Division I programs and learn more from those coaching staffs for professional development purposes.

"The good thing is we were able to get two weeks in (of spring practice), whereas some schools were not able to get anything in," Hoskins said.

Rather than picking up where they left off at the end of the 2019 season, the Blue Tigers simplified their tasks. For example, their defense focused on tackling and the offense focused on blocking and catching the football.

"We took for granted that every kid we had knew the fundamentals of football, and that's just not the case," Hoskins said. "We just got back to the roots of football, just teaching the fundamentals."

Lincoln's Spring Game was also canceled along with the seven remaining spring practices.

"We were really pleased on where we were when we broke for spring break," Hoskins said. "They were having fun, they were flying around, they were being disciplined. They were doing everything that we asked them to do. I'm disappointed that those kids weren't able to showcase what they've been showing us to the public."

Lincoln had 51 players on its spring football roster. Hoskins said only a few players were still on campus during spring break when practice was suspended, and then the following week, when all remaining spring practices were canceled during the extended spring break.

"We had a meeting before they went off for the break," Hoskins said. "We kind of laid the foundation for what might happen. When the news came down that they were going to suspend the rest of spring ball and the rest of the spring semester (on campus), a lot of them were disappointed in not being able to return and finish spring ball and finish out the semester academically the way we needed to."

While players are continuing their education remotely with Lincoln's campus closed, Hoskins said the football coaching staff is doing its part to make sure their players keep up with their studies and remain academically eligible when football resumes.

"Each position coach is responsible for having a Zoom conference call with their respective positions at least three times a week," Hoskins said. "We're in constant contact with our guys. I stick my head in on the position meetings to check on the guys and check on the coaches, to make sure that they're OK physically, that their families are OK physically and that they're doing what they're supposed to do in the classroom.

"We still have ways where we're able to check on their classes, on their class assignments, to see if everything is being turned in. It's really like we're physically there on campus, although we're doing everything remotely."

During this athletic break due to coronavirus, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association announced earlier this month it will allow virtual countable athletically related activities (CARA) to take place.

Coaches can stayed engaged with their players not only regarding their academics, but they can also conduct virtual team meetings, such as to study film sessions. However, coaches cannot require mandatory workouts from their players during this time.

Most football activities require a team setting, but Hoskins is hopeful his players are still working out voluntarily during this period to stay in shape.

"The biggest thing is getting those guys to physically try and maintain what they got before all of this happened," Hoskins said. "It's a team sport, and the guys feed off the motivation from their teammates. Not being able to work out together, that's going to be the biggest thing."

In the meantime, Hoskins and his staff are trying to do what they would normally do, as if they weren't in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. One of those activities includes starting to recruit players for the 2021 signing class.

Coaches are assigned to different parts of the state, and different parts of the country, for recruiting Lincoln's next signing class. The NCAA has issued coaches in any sport cannot visit recruits in-person through May 31, so coaches have been relegated to reviewing film for recruiting.

"If there is some good to come out of this, it levels the playing field," Hoskins said. "We don't have the biggest recruiting budget like everyone else in the conference, where we can have coaches out (on the road) for an extended period of time.

"Now is the time for our coaches to show what they're made of and get on the phones and recruit like it's nobody's business. No other coach in the conference, or in the nation for that matter, is able to get out and physically go see kids. Everybody is on the phones, so right now it's a level playing field."

In two seasons as an interim head coach — last season with Lincoln and in 2014 with Lane College — Hoskins has a 2-19 record. He has yet to coach a game as a head coach without the interim tag looming in his job title.

That is scheduled to change Sept. 3, when Lincoln is slated to host Washburn for the 2020 season opener. However, with the level of uncertainty caused by coronavirus and its spread, anything is subject to change.

"The NCAA is meeting constantly to update and talk about the things that are going on," Hoskins said. "They relay the messages to the conference representatives, who then relay the messages to each institution. I'll have conversations with coach (John) Moseley about what's going on.

"Right now, everything is still so uncertain, so we really don't have any idea what's going to happen. We're preparing now to have the season start on time. If they come and say we're not going to do it, we'll just have to accept that decision. But right now, in order for us to be as ready as we can be mentally, we just have to prepare as if the season is going to start on time."

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