For nearly two weeks this summer, Rashod Bateman’s head and body ached, altering between chills and night sweats. Like a bad flu, but with the disconcerting addition of losing his sense of taste and smell.
The Gophers star receiver was one of the coronavirus pandemic’s victims. He didn’t know how he contracted COVID-19 because he’d tried to be cautious. But he had taken a California trip on a break from voluntary workouts, and a test later confirmed he and some others who traveled were positive.
“Just being scared and not knowing what it can do to my body because nobody really had any answers,” Bateman said Thursday. “And then I just felt like it wasn’t safe to play football this year after going through that.”
Bateman has asthma, which made the experience even scarier. It took a couple of days after his sickness for him to begin feeling normal, and it was enough for him to decide to opt out of the 2020 football season Aug. 4.
The Big Ten canceled fall sports soon after Bateman left school, and the receiver signed with an agent and started his long preparation for the 2021 NFL draft, where he is a projected first-round pick. But leaving campus, moving into a condo in downtown Minneapolis and suddenly going from college student to adult was shocking, especially since he always planned for at least one more Gophers season.
“It was a very lonely time because I wasn’t with my teammates,” Bateman said. “You’re going through everything else in the world. You’re not sure where to look, left or right. I mean, I’ve had a football season every fall for practically my whole life. … And not participating in football in the fall, especially with this team and my brothers here and this staff and this university, it really took a toll on me.”
Bateman, who caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as the Big Ten Receiver of the Year, was convinced the Big Ten wouldn’t play this fall. But when the conference reversed its decision Sept. 16, planning an Oct. 24 start, he knew this was his second chance.
The conference added to its safety protocols, including daily testing for all athletes and staff to ensure prompt detection and isolation for outbreak prevention. That made Bateman more comfortable to return and help his team improve on an 11-2 season from 2019.
Bateman rapidly found himself re-enrolling in school, moving back to campus, rejoining practices — all while he waited for the NCAA to reinstate him, since signing with an agent and taking monetary benefits for housing, transportation and training terminates a player’s eligibility.
As of Wednesday, Bateman is officially a Gopher again.
“Now that I am back, I’m so happy, the happiest I’ve ever been, probably, in these past couple of months that we’ve been through,” Bateman said. “So I’m just really excited to get back to work with this team.”