RICHMOND, Ky. — Just a month before the start of the 2020 season, the Eastern Kentucky University football program is facing serious allegations about protocols on campus and in practice concerning COVID-19.
Landon White, a Madison Central graduate, posted on Instagram on Tuesday night that he left the program, citing safety concerns.
“This is a tough day for me, but somebody has gotta tell the truth on what us athletes are going through during this pandemic," White said.
"There is little or no testing, (last team test was July 6)," White states in the post. "Symptomatic players are still in the building and around other teammates, but the same day, people had symptoms, we continued to practice instead of face the issue head on. We started fall camp on Friday July 31. We have plenty of players and staff test positive over the past month."
The Register reached out to White, but was told through a source he didn't wish to speak any further about the matter.
The Register has also confirmed that junior offensive lineman Graham Ashkettle — who was a Second-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection last season — has also quit the team over safety related concerns.
EKU athletics responded to the social media posts by White with a statement from director of athletics Matt Roan on Wednesday afternoon.
"Eastern Kentucky University Athletics is aware of online statements recently made by a former student-athlete," Roan said in the statement. "First and foremost, the health, safety and overall well-being of our student-athletes will always be a primary priority. Head football coach Walt Wells and I have met continuously to ensure that football operations continue to adhere to local, state and health organization guidelines. We completely agree that egregiously or willfully ignoring safety guidelines, or our established protocol by any of our athletic programs, staff or students is a serious issue and will not be tolerated."
EKU has twice released statements on COVID-19 infections in the athletics department in past month.
On July 2, Director of Athletics Matt Roan announced that three student-athletes and three staff members had tested positive.
On July 17, school officials confirmed that 10 more cases had been diagnosed.
The Eastern Progress reports that as of July 28, EKU athletics reported there were no new cases from the 210 tests conducted. Officials did not indicate when tests were last conducted.
EKU's statement on Wednesday addressed the test issue in some detail.
"Our programs returned to campus on July 6. In preparation for summer participation, every student-athlete and sport-specific coach and staff member was tested for COVID-19," Roan stated. "Furthermore, any student-athlete reporting to campus for activity for the first time in August has been, and will continue to be, required to receive a negative test result prior to their return. To coincide with the recent commencement of preseason practice, weekly testing will be performed consistent with re-socialization requirements. When a student-athlete, coach or staff member reports symptoms to EKU Sports Medicine, that individual has been immediately monitored, tested and quarantined, if necessary.
White's allegations continued in the post.
"There are meeting rooms with 100-plus players and staff crammed into it with zero space and no social distancing rules in sight," the post stated. "There are a bunch of potential positives in there. The player cafeteria (Case Dining Hall) endangers the EKU cafeteria staff as well as other students who are now on campus, masks are routinely not worn while players are constantly being reminded by the dining hall staff instead of our coaches to keep it on."
EKU's statement appears to dispute those claims.
"Our staff and coaches take every opportunity to remind student-athletes to practice social distancing – including conducting meetings virtually – wear the proper masks/PPP, practice proper hygiene and to contact EKU Sports Medicine if they are feeling ill," the press release said.
In the post, White calls out EKU's new head — Walt Wells — without using his name.
“The head coach does not care about his players as well as his staff and their families,” White said. “He cares about the 500K (dollars) we are about to earn by playing WVU (West Virginia University) in Morgantown at the end of the month.”
White earned all-state honors following his senior season at Central.
He picked EKU, a school he had a strong connection to through his family, over Murray State and Morehead State.
White's parents, Kelly and Russ, both graduated from EKU as did both of his sisters, including Meredith, who married a former Colonel football player — Jon Floyd.
When he signed, he told The Register of his passion for EKU football, recalling the Saturday afternoons he spent at Roy Kidd Stadium.
“We played football on the hill and would run around like maniacs,” White said in December of 2016. “It’s in my blood.”
That connection had to make the decision to walk away even tougher for White.
"I will surely miss my brothers on the field," the kicker said in the Instagram post. "This is a tough day for me, but somebody has gotta tell the truth on what us athletes are going through during this pandemic."
In the end, White said safety — especially for his family — was his biggest concern.
"With two pregnant sisters, three nieces and a nephew, and a mom and dad as well as my grandmother and grandfather I love dearly, I need to protect them at ALL cost. I will not endanger anyones health by continuing to play. This goes for my players family and my family. People need to know what the NCAA and University is really about and it’s not about player safety.
White ended the post with the hashtag #DoTheyReallyCare
The kicker appeared in three games in 2019, with 13 kickoffs, but no field goal or extra point attempts.
White was redshirted in 2017 and did not see any action in 2018 either.
He would have been a redshirt junior this season.
White had already been removed from the school's website by Tuesday evening. His departure leaves only two kickers officially listed on the current roster — redshirt freshman Alexander Woznick (a transfer from the University of South Carolina) and Mason Molique, a redshirt freshman from Ryle High School.
White's announcement on Instagram drew reaction from current and former EKU players.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Jackson Beerman said "Love you brother."
Redshirt wide receiver Keyion Dixon posted "God, FAMILY .. football! Take care bro!"
Redshirt junior wide receiver BK Smith stated "Love you bro! Respect!!"
Former EKU long snapper Alex Shelton responded, "Love you bro. Glad EKU brought us together and I'll cherish all the memories."
Redshirt junior defensive lineman Tre Turner stated, "You know I'm rocking with you until the wheels fall off."
Former EKU All-OVC defensive lineman Aaron Patrick responded with "Salute," followed by the 100 percent emoji.
Senior defensive back Allante Leapheart posted, "Love and respect, my brother."
Devon Conkrite, a transfer from Florida Tech who committed to EKU in May, responded to White's post with this message, "All love man. Complete respect."