Given the circumstances, Grady Munro knows things could be much worse. The Macalester quarterback has been riding out the pandemic in Ponte Vedra, Fla., living at his uncle’s house and soaking up the spring sun.
But his heart — along with his immediate family — is in Canada. Munro, of Calgary, Alberta, was all set to travel home for spring break in mid-March. That changed abruptly when concerns about the spread of the coronavirus closed the border to nonessential travel and emptied out airports.
“I heard if I went back to Canada, I might not be able to return to the U.S.,” Munro said. “So I canceled the trip. I decided I’d rather not take the risk.”
Macalester’s football team mirrors the global nature of the college, with players from four countries and one U.S. territory on last fall’s roster. While the pandemic has put everyone in college football into a holding pattern, it’s also complicated travel plans and family reunions for several Scots from faraway places.
Running back Kai Akimoto and wide receiver Brian Anderson were able to return home to Guam, though coach Tony Jennison said it wasn’t easy. Kian Sohrabi, the Scots’ leading rusher last season, might not see his parents — who live in Dubai — until next winter. Jennison hopes two new recruits from Guam and Abu Dhabi won’t have trouble getting to St. Paul for the start of the school year.
Munro stayed on the Macalester campus after classes were moved online and most other students went home. With border crossings still restricted, he continued to fret about returning to St. Paul if he traveled to Canada. Faced with the prospect of being the only person living in his dorm, Munro decamped to Florida, where the social distance between him and his parents is 2,700 miles.
“Staying in the U.S. seemed like the best option,” said Munro, who played in four games as a sophomore last season. “It’s been tough for my parents, for sure. We were really hoping to see each other.
“There have been times when I’ve gotten a bit homesick. The feeling that I can’t or shouldn’t go home is something I’ve never encountered before. But at least I’m with family, rather than in the dorm alone.”
Macalester’s multinational roster is a source of pride for Jennison, a Rochester native who is 60-59 in 12 seasons with the Scots. His players have taught him phrases in many languages — including Russian, Hawaiian and Chamorro, which is indigenous to Guam — and Sohrabi has brought dates and candy from the United Arab Emirates for Jennison’s kids.
They’ve brought talent, too. Sohrabi rushed for a team-high 366 yards as a sophomore last season, just ahead of his classmate Akimoto (348 yards). In 2018, Munro set a school record with 391 passing yards against Lawrence in his first college start.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another program in the country that has the international students we do,” Jennison said. “It’s a pretty diverse group. Internationalism is one of the four pillars of the college, so it makes sense that we reflect that.”
The global spread of the coronavirus, though, created multiple layers of uncertainty for some of Macalester’s players. Like everyone else in college football, they are waiting to hear when — or even if — the 2020 season will start. They also have lingering questions about their ability to travel.
Jennison said Anderson and Akimoto weren’t initially sure what to do when the pandemic began to shut down campuses and disrupt travel. They stayed on campus for a couple of weeks before their families recognized the gravity of the situation and got them on a flight to Guam.
Sohrabi is a U.S. citizen whose family moved from Virginia to Dubai when he was 9. In the early stages of the pandemic, as he was deciding whether to go back for a visit, the United Arab Emirates stopped issuing entry visas to all but its citizens and residents.
“For a while, going back to Dubai wasn’t even an option,” said Sohrabi, who is staying in Shakopee with the family of teammate Maxx Malone. “I definitely miss my family, but right now, travel isn’t something I want to be doing.
“My parents were planning to come the U.S. for about eight weeks and stay in Virginia. If they’re able to, then I’ll see them. If not, I’ll probably have to wait until winter, unless my dad can get to a football game.”
No matter where they’re from, Macalester’s players are trying as best they can to stay ready for football. Jennison and his assistant coaches are maintaining frequent contact via e-mail, phone and Zoom meetings, offering whatever support they can. The team also held virtual spring practices, which gave Munro a welcome dose of normalcy in abnormal times.
He hasn’t had access to a gym in Florida, and the only equipment at his uncle’s home is a single set of dumbbells. The Scots’ strength and conditioning staff has helped Munro find creative solutions, such as filling a backpack with books to use for weightlifting.
He misses football, and he misses his family. Though it’s impossible to know when he will be reunited with either one, Munro is staying positive.
“I’m really in a pretty good situation, with my uncle in a nice place with great weather,” he said. “It’s certainly been challenging. But these are challenging times for everyone.”