I’m hoping, at this point, that you’ve already run out and purchased a copy of Thursday’s paper, if only for the sheer pleasure of poring over every minute detail of the 2005 Prep Football special preview section.
If not, please log off and do so immediately.
Good, you’re back.
Now, having read my first-person account of what I’ve been calling “My Day In Hell,” I’m sure you have questions.
1. What in the world possessed a 30-something chubby guy to try something like that?
2. How did the coaches react when you pitched them the idea?
3. How bad was it, really?
4. What was the best part of the day?
It just so happens that I have answers to all of those questions and more.
1. I have a big mouth. Sometimes it takes a while, when I’m talking, before my brain engages. Often, by then, it’s too late. We were sitting around the table at our annual, what are we gonna do with the prep football section meeting when somebody settled on “Hell Week.”
I immediately said, “Hey, I could do a first-person.”
This momentary lapse haunted me for three weeks leading up to Aug. 22.
2. When I called Ygnacio Valley’s coach, Mike Ivankovich, on his cell phone to discuss the story, he did, in fact, laugh at me. Later, he said, “You’re gonna be doooooooooooooooooooone.”
He seemed to take a certain sinister pleasure in that notion. He was nice enough, though, to suggest that I begin stretching for several minutes a day in the five days leading up to my grand day out. I did — 20 to 30 minutes a day — and it helped a lot. Also, I laid off beer and coffee for that span, drinking glass after glass of water instead in an effort to pre-hydrate.
3. It was rough. Fun, but rough.
4. Every time we broke for water, lunch, and right when the second practice ended. Those guys worked me over pretty good.
There was a lot of stuff that I couldn’t get into the special section for space reasons. This seems the perfect venue for sharing it.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
- I went to the school on the Friday before my day of practice to get suited up, and Coach I, as the kids call Ivankovich, was on the yard passing out pads and helmets to the freshmen.
This scene gave me a false sense of hope.
These guys were TINY — 5-foot-nuthin, 98 pounds. At 6-feet, 200-something pounds, I felt like a giant. That was before they told me they were just freshmen, or, as Coach I called them, “squirrels.”
- Assistant coach Darin Michels smirked when he saw me — Ivankovich had told him and the rest of the team what was going on.
Michels said, “Just stay away from the right side of our line. Gary (Graffort) and Al (Becerra) are beasts.”
Then he went into the weight room where all the varsity players were lifting and sent Graffort and Becerra out to size me up.
They looked at me like I was a T-bone and they were a pack of hungry wolves.
This did not inspire confidence.
THE BIG DAY
- Practice was scheduled for 9 a.m. sharp. I was there at 8. What, me, nervous?
- I got dressed at 8:30 in the locker room with the guys, who clearly didn’t know what to make of me.
Graffort and Becerra, though, welcomed me like I was going to be their favorite toy for the day. Which, apparently, I was.
- When I had popped a sweat after warmups and stretching, I knew I was in for a loooooooong day.
- I worked with the linemen and we hit the sled. I never got the footwork right. Coach I laughed at me a couple of times, but never really called me out.
After the day was over, he said, “Yeah. You were pretty bad on the sled.”
Fortunately, Gene Duncan, Graffort, Becerra and center Dean Bettencourt were really helpful. They kept giving me pointers and encouragement throughout the day.
Actually, after some of the novelty wore off, all the linemen started to treat me like part of the team, which was really cool.
On the rare occasion when I actually did something right, they’d give me high fives and attaboys. That’s one of those great things about being a part of a team that you forget when you’re not on one anymore: The cameraderie. These guys depend on each other so much, they genuinely care when their teammates are struggling and are genuinely happy when they’re successful.
- The guys — Graffort, Becerra, Duncan, Bettencourt, linemen Chris Pettit and Scott Langevin and all the other linemen, as well as QB Kyle Havens and every body else I came into contact with that day — really made the whole thing work. They embraced the concept, didn’t take it easy on me, and had some fun with the whole thing. I can’t thank them enough.
- I finally believe what a former lineman/coach friend of mine has been telling me for 10 years: Those offensive linemen really do have to be the most prepared guys on the field.
They have to know what’s going on every single play, read what the defense is trying to do to them and adjust accordingly. It’s not as simple as just being big and bumping bellies with other big guys.
The technique, hand and body positioning and footwork that goes into the line — both offensive and defensive — is impressive.
- I drank 2½ gallons of water during and after practice. I ate a bagel with peanut butter for breakfast, a turkey sandwich, a banana and some chips for lunch, two bananas and some more chips as an after-practice snack, a home-made soft-taco, rice and salad for dinner, and went out for Coldstone for desert.
- I lost four pounds.
- By Wednesday, I had (sadly) regained half of that.
- Also, it was only 73 degrees out there at noon (the first practice ended at 11:35 a.m. By 3 p.m., it was 88 degrees, and when we were doing the very worst of our conditioning — gassers — it was 90.
- Perhaps the funniest moment of the day was when we got into three lines to work on form-tackling. I got near the back of my line, which I had been doing all day so I could figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing. A smallish defensive back was in front of me, another behind me. I was in good shape. I was going to hit and be hit by a couple of guys significantly smaller than me.
I hit the first guy, picked him up and carried him forward, then turned around to have the same thing done to me.
Graffort, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end who had been in the line next to me, was standing there, grinning at me. He had switched lines, just so I could have the “full experience.” Nice kid.
I had forgotten how badly your forehead hurts after wearing a football helmet. I was in AGONY by the time we were done.
This wasn’t really from hitting. It was from the constant pressure of the helmet pad on my forehead. I’m pretty sure I went home with just about the worst headache I’ve ever experienced.
Also, I had bruises in both armpits. Seriously. The straps from the shoulder pads ran right under my pits, and chafed and bruised the living bejeebers out of me.
I didn’t discover this until after my shower when I was applying my deodorant. Yeeeeouch.
GASSERS ARE EVIL
We were supposed to do 4 sets of three with brief breaks between them after the third.
I got through the first two sets pretty well — always finishing ahead of a handful of guys.
The first gasser of the third set was OK, too. The second one was brutal — I only beat one guy.
When I hit the 45-yard mark on the ninth gasser, I nearly didn’t make it up after reaching down to touch the line.
You know that Gatorade commercial with the triathlete whose body just “shuts down” 50 meters from the end of the Iron Man race? That was how I felt coming off the line. I staggered, nearly fell, staggered some more.
The coaches — Ivankovich, Michels and assistant Matt Wade — who were standing at the line watching, later told me that they thought I wasn’t going to make it all the way back. I had some doubts myself.
They said I looked like I was drunk.
I felt like I was dying.
I staggered across the line and cried No Mas.
Fortunately for me, YV is putting in a new track and field, so they had some new fence posts up next to the practice field. I hung on to one of these for dear life while the rest of the guys ran the final three gassers.
For a while, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to walk back to my car, much less drive it home.
But I didn’t pass out and I didn’t throw up — two things I was really worried about.
Michels told me to eat bananas and pickles Monday night and drink tons of water. I followed his sage advice, and proudly, I never cramped up, and didn’t suffer from any dehydration.
I did, however, get a nice German-Irish lineman tan — which is to say I got a bright red sunburn on my upper arms and the part of my face exposed by the helmet.
My wife, Cindy, likely saved my life after the practice. Genius that she is, she told me to swim on Tuesday morning.
After some creaking and crackling (I sounded like a big bowl of Rice Krispies when I got out of bed on Tuesday), I did exactly that. Felt great. Lengthened out all those muscles I had overworked the day before.
I swam Wednesday and Thursday, too, just to stay limber. I never would have thought of that, had she not mentioned it.
As a result, there was very little soreness or discomfort in the days after the practice.
Well, except for all those bruises.