By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – The players walked out of their air-conditioned locker room at the McCue Center this afternoon and stepped into a furnace.
“It’s a hot one, ain’t it?” said cornerback Dom Joseph.
“Wow!” said tailback Max Milien.
“I’m not ready for this type of heat,” quarterback Jameel Sewell said.
Ready or not, UVa’s football team had to contend with stifling humidity and temperatures in the 90s during its third practice of training camp. Most players were on the field by 2:15 p.m., and they didn’t get back in the locker room, where ice baths awaited them, till about 5 o’clock.
“It was the first hot day we’ve had, but we pushed through it,” defensive end Matt Conrath said.
Today’s practice also was the team’s first in shoulder pads, so the players had heavier loads to carry under a blazing sun.
“That’s perfect timing,” said Kelli Pugh, UVa’s associate athletic trainer for football.
If the heat bothered head coach Al Groh, he didn’t let on. Groh wore his usual summer practice attire – a gray sweatshirt that’s showing its age – and noted that such days are not uncommon during training camps at UVa.
“What else do you expect in August in the South?” a smiling Groh said to some visitors from Staunton. “This isn’t Green Bay, you know. You gotta be real football guys to be out here today.”
Part of Brandon Hourigan’s job is to prepare the players to handle these conditions. Hourigan, UVa’s director of football training and player development, works almost daily with the players in the weeks leading up to training camp.
“The best way to get adapted to this [heat] is just going through it,” Hourigan said today. “You want to have at least a couple of these kind of days.”
For much of this summer, however, temperatures have rarely climbed out of the 80s. So Hourigan had to be creative. He made the players train in a sand pit, run up Observatory Hill, flip tires and push sleds and take turns doing the fireman’s carry, among other drills.
“But nothing gets you in condition for this like being out there and going through it,” Hourigan said.
UVa’s trainers are well aware of the dangers that heat can pose. If the players aren’t aware of the importance of staying hydrated, it’s because they’re not listening.
On the eve of training camp, the training staff addressed that topic with the team, and the message is preached every day.
“We’ve got Gatorade available during taping, at every meal, at breaks during practice, after practice and then during meetings at night,” Pugh said. “Between myself and Rob Skinner” – UVa’s director of sports nutrition – “we hit the hydration part of things pretty hard.”
Players are weighed before and after every practice, and those whose weight drops are considered excessive receive treatment.
Nose tackle Nate Collins sweats profusely, so he’s a player whom the trainers watch closely.
“They make me drink too much water during the day, to the point I’m almost sick,” Collins said, shaking his head.
The heat thinned the crowd at practice as the afternoon wore on, and it clearly sapped the strength of the players and some of the team’s support personnel. They survived, though. And now they can look forward to another scorcher tomorrow, and more of the same Tuesday.
“It was definitely hot today,” offensive tackle Will Barker said. “But it’s only going to get hotter, so we’ve got to get used to it.”