Curtis Gainwell Sr., the father of Memphis redshirt sophomore Kenneth Gainwell, confirmed to The Memphis Commercial Appeal Sunday night that his son has decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season.
The Gainwell family has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, including the recent death of Kenneth’s uncle, a loss that has been particularly tough for the star running back. Four members of the Gainwell family have died from COVID-19 and the risks associated with the virus played a role in Kenneth’s decision not to play for the Tigers this fall.
Curtis Gainwell Sr. told The Commercial Appeal on Sunday night that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic played a role in his son's decision as the family has lost four members after contracting the virus, including an uncle whose funeral was this weekend.
"He decided that he didn't want to take any chances with the coronavirus going on. You don't want to get out there and get sick and bring it to us, his brother or his teammates," Gainwell Sr. said.
The decision comes less than a week before Memphis’ season-opening game against Arkansas State. It’s a big loss for the Tigers, too, who are entering their first season with Ryan Silverfield as head coach. Silverfield was promoted from offensive line coach after Mike Norvell left for Florida State.
[Yahoo Sports: List of college football players opting out due to COVID-19]
In Norvell’s final season coaching the program, Gainwell emerged as a star as a redshirt freshman. Gainwell rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He also contributed 51 receptions for 610 yards and three scores out of the backfield, helping Memphis win the AAC title, the program’s first outright conference championship in football since 1969. He was the only FBS player to rush for more than 1,000 yards and have more than 500 yards receiving in 2019.
Whether Gainwell will ever put on the Memphis uniform again remains to be seen. His breakout 2019 performance put him on the radar of NFL scouts and he’s considered by some to rank among the top at his position with the likes of Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, among others.
The 2020 season would have been Gainwell’s redshirt sophomore campaign, making him eligible for the 2021 NFL draft. Curtis Gainwell Sr. said his son has not made a decision about the NFL.
Gainwell was named to the Associated Press' preseason All-American second team earlier this month.
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