The Grind of Training Camp
Training camp proves to be both a physical and mental test for the Red Raiders.
August 12, 2011
by Britton Drown
In a slow, almost defeated stagger, Urell Johnson paced slowly off the practice field on a blistering hot Wednesday afternoon. It marked the end of the fifth day of training camp, but it felt much, much longer.
The practice nearly emptied the energy Johnson once had when he first jogged effortlessly onto field just two hours before.
When his feet slowly came to a stop just outside the Football Training Facility, heavy beads of sweat dripped one-by-one from his face, and fell to the steaming field-turf below.
He panted, struggling to catch his breath, and wiped his arms and hands of the excess perspiration produced from the battleground that coaches and players alike label as practice.
His body tried desperately to cool itself as he met the pack of reporters waiting between himself and the door to the locker room.
Johnson, a redshirt freshman cornerback, was one of 103 Red Raiders who slowly staggered off the field on Wednesday after yet another agonizing training camp practice.
The physical toll pre-season camp takes on players was painted plainly across Johnson that day. But the sweat, the exhaustion and the slow walk to the locker room displayed just a glimmer of what the entirety of training camp truly entails.
"In order to understand how hard this stuff is, you have to experience it first-hand," Johnson said. "You have to be out here doing what we are doing--otherwise you are never going to understand."
Perhaps the most common word used among the Texas Tech football squad to describe training camp is "grind".
It seems fitting too. The long hours, the never-ending meetings discussing film, the evening walk-throughs.
The three-week long camp truly is a grind.
"The biggest challenge for players is mentally, and staying focused," inside receivers coach Sonny Cumbie said. "Your body gets tired, you get worn down."
But it's not just the two-hour practice each day that makes training camp as difficult as it is. Each day begins much earlier, and entails much more than just the intense practices on the field.
As players reported to camp on Aug. 5, they were handed an eight-page, meticulously detailed schedule that would map out the next three weeks--or 19 practices. There were just two off-days scattered inside the packet.
"All day you are thinking about football," senior linebacker Sam Fehoko said. "You live football."
For freshman linebacker Blake Dees, Aug. 5 marked the beginning of his first training camp as a college football player. Dees reported to Texas Tech and participated with the team in spring and summer workouts, but the past week has been a challenge the native of Spanish Fort, Ala. couldn't quite prepare for.
"I was definitely surprised," Dees admitted "It's just crazy. I've never run this much in my life. I'm in the best shape I can be."
For Dees and the Red Raiders, each day begins early in the morning at precisely 6:30 during the week when they report to team breakfast inside the press box at Jones AT&T stadium.
From there, they remain together, as a team, for the next 13 hours until a final snack is scheduled at 9:30 p.m. just before lights-out at promptly 10:30.
"It's a grind," Cumbie said. "You are doing the same thing over and over again. That's what makes good football players, is being able to do the same thing right, over and over again."
And the grind does not just involve football. Players are also routinely quizzed throughout camp about one another. Hometowns, hobbies and even the names of their parents are tested as training camp progresses. The Red Raiders were given profile sheets when they reported to camp. Copies were then made and handed out for the Red Raiders to study during their break periods.
It's part of a strategy the Texas Tech coaches have implemented to promote team chemistry before the season begins.
"Team chemistry," running backs coach Chad Scott said. "That's the biggest thing. Those guys getting to know each other, and seeing what those guys are like outside of football."
After breakfast, the players meet with their particular position coaches at 8:20 a.m. before meeting together for pre-practice at 9:45.
The first practice of the day begins at 10:15 a.m.
"It's pretty much fast-paced with everything we are doing." Johnson said. "I don't know how long it is, but you want to keep going no matter how long practice is going to be."
Entering his second season at Texas Tech, Scott has seen first-hand the intricacies and investments that goes into a pre-season training camp. He understands it's a pivotal time in building a successful team that can compete in the ultra-competitive Big 12 Conference.
Scott stresses that the biggest challenge he has seen players face is not necessarily the physical aspect--especially for the freshmen.
"They need to understand the mental part of it," Scott said. "They are so young, and in high school they would just go. On this level, it's all mental."
Once the first practice of the day is over, the players receive the longest break of their day. They return to the locker room, shower, receive their second treatment of the day from the training staff, and again head to the press box high above Jones AT&T Stadium for a much needed lunch break.
It's this part of day that Scott encourages his players to remove themselves from football, and most of all relax.
"I think the most challenging part for them, is just trying to get some rest and allow their bodies to heal and cool down." Scott said.
But after lunch, and after they cool down, the Red Raiders have to prepare themselves for the second half of the day to begin.
Three days out of the week, this half of their day includes weight lifting, and almost everyday it includes meetings, and a walk through in the evening.
It's a grind of meetings that often times, younger members of the squad struggle with the most.
"Freshmen aren't used to this." Fehoko said. "When you come from high school, you really don't watch a lot of film, you don't spend hours in the film room learning from you mistakes, learning other people's mistakes. That's really a hard challenge for these freshmen, but they are coming along really well."
Once the weight lifting and walk-throughs are complete around 9:30, the day finally draws to a close. The Red Raiders receive a snack, and then head home to rest, and prepare for yet another grind to come.
But now, they are through the first full week of training camp, and will cap it off this weekend with a scrimmage at Jones AT&T Stadium on Saturday.
The Sept. 3 season opener is in clear sight--and it's evident the Red Raiders can truly feel it.
When asked how he would feel once Sept. 3 arrived, Fehoko sighed, and his answer spoke for itself.
"That's the day," he said, his eyes bright. "I've got goose bumps. It's not really a relief...it's just here. It's going to be fun."