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The Lighter Side of Camp: Preseason Camp Tales

As college football preseason camps start up again, it seems like a good time to discuss the lighter side of camp. Players and coaches alike get into an all-football all-the-time mode that makes for a physical and mental lockdown for several weeks leading up to the season opener.

Part of camp is bed check. When camp starts players are moved into a common dorm so that coaches can be sure that they will stay in bed and get their rest. At the University of Virginia Hall of Fame Coach George Welsh once taught us a valuable lesson as coaches. On a Saturday night during camp, he could tell the team was antsy to have camp end and resume some sort of actual social life outside of football.

At the coaches meeting that day he told us not to do bed check. We were surprised that he would be so lax with bed check. But there was a method to his madness.

“If you check them in, they will wait a few minutes until you’re gone and then sneak out. If you keep them waiting they will never know if and when you are going to show up and they will eventually give up their plans.”

The next morning one of the players actually griped to me because we never checked him in, essentially admitting that he had planned to go back out.

A number of schools take their teams away from Campus for camp. UCLA, Northwestern and Arizona are among them. Former Arizona Head Coach Dick Tomey took his teams south of Tucson to a camp that was in the middle of the desert and not far from Mexico. If you quit the team the trip to Mexico was likely an easier escape route from camp than heading back to campus.

The hardest part for the players was the endless slog of practice after practice. They had to find ways to keep from snapping mentally. In a study lounge in the camp dorm, Penn State players once set up half a dozen televisions and created a room full of guys playing Halo or Call of Duty every night before bed.

In camp, maybe most important of all is the food. Each night teams got a snack before bed. In the 1980s snack at Penn State rotated between Arby’s Roast Beef, McDonald’s Big Macs, CC Pepper’s Subs and others. Players also got two sodas an apple and a candy bar. It was a nutritionist’s nightmare, but a highlight of the day.

The snack was a coveted perk. In 1987 during practice one player suffered a nasty compound fracture. Another player went over to the injured player and asked “Since you’ll be at the hospital tonight, can I have your snack?”

As the role of proper nutrition became more and more important snacks changed. When our entire team went to salads and more greens because three or four players had gained too much weight, they were the least popular guys on the team.

Weights were watched constantly. Before and after each practice guys were weighed in and out to see how much water weight they’d lost. That was a key gauge for the medical staff to measure proper hydration.

All told camp can be a long and arduous part of a college football player’s life. But it is a necessity for any team looking to build a special season and when they have team reunions and relive that season they will always talk about those times in camp.

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