Football players beat the heat, ready to take on 2011 opponents

by Cliff Mehrtens



Here are some observations from roaming around football practices over the past few weeks:

Sometimes football coaches fib.

We all do, to convince ourselves on occasion.

“It’s not hot,” North Mecklenburg High School coach Mike Bradley yelled as his team ran sprints in the Aug. 2 morning heat. “C’mon, it’s not hot.”

The sweat on Bradley’s gray T-shirt suggested otherwise. Ditto for the soggy assistant coaches and the sweat-soaked players. Even the Vikings’ water coolers had sweat drops rolling down the outside.

It’s been that kind of summer.

Bradley wasn’t trying to pull anything fancy on his players. He was more echoing what the players are going to have to tell themselves when they’re late in a game and the oppressive heat is wearing them out.

Practice officially began July 30, but area teams have been doing conditioning work outside for a good bit of the summer. It’s been a wicked combination of heat and humidity almost every day.

I know every August is a sizzler, but this summer seems especially brutal because of the lack of afternoon showers or cloudy days.

I can remember previous preseasons when teams got drenched occasionally – a welcome respite – or practices had to be moved or delayed because of a storm. I did get hit with a few light drops during a practice two weeks ago, but it passed in about 15 minutes. The sweat on players’ jerseys was heavier than the raindrops.

Every August, I marvel at how difficult it is to play football in the South.

Think about strapping on 20 or so pounds of equipment, trying to keep the sweat from dripping into your eyes, or down your hands if you’re a receiver.

Some players play on offense and defense and mix in special teams. They rarely come off the field. While young legs will carry them, the heat can melt your concentration. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17, 37 or 57 years old. The heat will find you and beat you down.

High school teams do a good job preventing heat-related injuries and illnesses. A damaged player does a coach no good, so the goal isn’t to wear out players with extra work in the heat.

Water breaks are frequent.

And, the preventative steps began long before this week. Teams had conditioning programs all spring and summer. Still, a cloudy, 82-degree day would do wonders mentally.

Of course, there’s a word for that.

Fall.

• My lawn at home is struggling, as are many. But football fields at a high school near you in August are sparkling green. Caretakers deserve applause for their offseason tender care. You’ll see thick green everywhere, no easy task in this weather.

And the fields with the built-in color (artificial turf), well, they’re looking mighty green, too.

• I absolutely love a football team that prints the playoff dates on its schedule. To me, that means confidence that fans might want to keep those Friday nights open.

Optimism reigns in August. Dreams of a blanket and hot chocolate during a November playoff game formulate now.

• A warm touch I heard was a coach welcoming a new player from way up North (no, I don’t mean Statesville) as the team gathered post-practice.

“We’re a family here,” he told the players. “If you see he needs a ride, give him one. If he needs help, offer it to him. Make him feel welcome.”

• An irritation to me is when a player is listed as “athlete” on all-star lists and college recruiting lists.

What position is “athlete”? Aren’t they all athletes?

The designation is recruit-speak for a player who won’t play the same position when he gets to college. For instance, a talented high school quarterback might look like a college defensive back to a recruiter. Well, why not list him as that?

And all-star teams that list every position, then tack on four or five “athletes” at the end? That’s a copout. Pick the best quarterback, the best running back, etc. You never see tackles and guards crammed onto an all-star team as “athlete.”

• Speaking of linemen, my goal this season is to recognize deserving linemen as often as it is deserved. As a former lineman myself, I know it’s not a glamour position. But football teams can’t win without skilled blockers.

It’s easy for the casual fan to only follow the ball during a game. “Wow,” they might say, “look at running back Jones burst through that large hole.” Well, some large, muscular fellows created that hole. Sure, the running back has to be quick enough to get through the hole, but he can’t do it alone.

I love running backs and quarterbacks who are quick to credit their blockers when things go right. Keep the big boys happy.

• It would be hard to complain about your team’s road schedule to anyone who is a Davidson Day fan.

The Patriots’ first varsity season will be all road games since the team doesn’t have a stadium on campus. There is one “home” game scheduled, but it will be at Johnson C. Smith University.

But every field is 120 yards long, and 53 yards wide, right?