2019 Pitt at Penn State Football

Noah Cain (21) of Penn State eludes Damar Hamlin (3) of Pitt and scores a TD to give Penn State a 17-10 lead in the third quarter in football action at Beaver Stadium in State College on Saturday, September 14, 2019.

For Penn State running back Noah Cain, returning to State College wasn’t an easy or obvious decision.

Not after watching several members of his family suffer with COVID-19.

“I take it as kind of disrespectful when people don't take it seriously, because it's a real thing," Cain said during a video call Tuesday. "I've seen what it can do."

Cain’s mother, aunt and a cousin have all had COVID-19. They seem to have since recovered, but his mother, Tonya, in particular, suffered for over a month.

“You go back and forth to the doctor. (She tested) positive over and over again,’’ he said. “Everything they say about it — you lose your sense of smell. You lose your taste. Vomiting, stomach hurting ...

“Some days, you don't know you're going to make it, honestly. It’s killing you.’’

Cain was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of the country’s more coronavirus-stricken areas. His parents talked him out of spending the shutdown there, and even convinced him to stay away from a family funeral there.

He spent most of the shutdown in Dallas, where his father has lived, and Arizona, where he has extended family and a trainer.

He’s in State College now, but only arrived last Wednesday, and thus can only begin working out this Wednesday, after a week of quarantine. His parents, who talked him out of Baton Rouge, helped talk him back in to Happy Valley.

"It was a difficult decision for me to come back, just because of the fact it's so easy to get (the virus) from touching somebody, being in the same room as them, especially on a plane," Cain said.

"The best thing about being in State College is, it's a small town, so not many people are here versus the cities I was in. And the team physicians are teaching me more and more every day about what I can and cannot do."

Penn State won a recruiting battle for Cain, a sophomore, over Texas, LSU and Miami, among others. He appeared to have emerged as The Man from a four-running back committee halfway through last season.

Then an injury in the Michigan State game in late October sidelined him, fueling the emergence of Journey Brown as a starter and star.

It was a brilliant true-freshman year though. Finally over the injury, he ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl defeat of Memphis, setting a school season record for rushing TDs by a freshman with eight.

Cain hasn’t forgotten about the virus.

“It’s in the back of my mind all the time,’’ he said.

And he isn’t pretending it’s over. But he also hasn’t forgotten that he’s a football player and a teammate.

“It’s a big step (coming back),’’ he said. “We still have guys coming in day by day. It’s a step forward for us just having a season, having a team chemistry. I think it’s important for us all to be back and watch each other, just see each other’s faces again.’’