For coaches, the long awaited training camp comes as a sigh of fresh air.
After months “off” from the daily coaching grind, there comes an anticipation to get the players back together and prepare for the upcoming season. Where spring football is used to give the fans a snapshot of what’s to come, it’s also used to evaluate the cards in place for training camp. With limited spots available, it tends to be where guys want to showcase their talents, hoping to punch their ticket. Having been in that position as a walk-on wide receiver, the opportunity to be invited back for camp held a great deal of pressure beforehand, yet for good reason once that invitation was extended.
Being a collegiate football player, particularly at Mizzou, training camp opens your eyes to the wider world surrounding football. Writers, journalists, even fans of Mizzou Football don’t completely understand the immense toll it takes on the body and mind alike.
Under Gary Pinkel, the expectation was set from day one. You’re either all in, or not at all. As your playing years grew shorter in number, you began to understand exactly what that means. The schedule of practices; the hours spent in meetings; the heat; your body is screaming to recover; and ultimately the commitment factor. These are things that players have been told about - and fans hear about - but don’t quite understand until they’ve been experienced.
To say that camp is merely an opportunity to prepare to play the upcoming season would be selling the program - and the players - short. It takes more than catching passes, running sprints, and watching film. If it were that easy, anyone could do it. Rest assured, you find out who you are as a man and a Tiger during this full month. A day in the life of a Mizzou Football player during camp is no easy task.
At the beginning of camp, there’s a team meeting where players are handed a camp schedule for literally the entire month of August, detailing everything from what type of practice they’ll have, what they’ll wear, to the times they’re to be in bed for bed checks.
There were several days where one or two individuals who didn’t pass the conditioning test were outside the window of the MATC while we were eating. The conditioning test was grueling for anyone who hadn’t gone through summer conditioning. Just like summer conditioning at 6:00 a.m. during the week, these guys were up trying to pass the first test of camp, just so they’d get to play with everyone else.
After a quick hour breakfast (you better have eaten for some energy), players head to the locker room, dress out, and hit the field. Early practice lasted roughly two hours, before a lifting session - if it’s your position group’s day to lift post-practice. Those who don’t lift get in the cold tub. It hurts, but your body will thank you. Sitting in ice cold water is a mental exercise in of itself. Either you take it and make yourself better through recovery, or blow it off because it’s uncomfortable and let your body pay the price.
The rest of the day is either meetings or rest. Position group meetings, unit meetings, special teams meetings… all spread out over an extended day. If you’re lucky enough to not be on one (or more) of those lists, you have time to walk across Providence and Stadium Blvd. to the dorms to take a quick nap and rest your feet, or post up in the locker room for the same.
Summer is also a time to get your classes lined up, get your books, and take care of other academic responsibilities prior to the first day of school, so for the freshmen and many other guys, your free time — or lack thereof — may be spent on campus getting things in order. If you’re hurt or injured, there are built-in recovery and treatment times before practice, after practice, and throughout the day. If you miss, you’re in trouble.
Much to many people’s surprise, two-a-day practices are not an everyday thing. When they do happen, it’s during the hottest part of the day. Those practices are shorter — but never lack intensity — and are followed by an afternoon lifting time, as well as meetings where we watch and evaluate the practice film.
As grueling as the camp schedule may sound, many would argue that the “worst” part are the meetings. Yes, a meeting can be monotonous and boring at times, but there’s only so much football to take in throughout the day. What goes on in meetings is sacred, where the group is tired, hungry and beat up, but get to come together with the coaches in a more intimate setting, to learn what it takes to be men.
Camp is a time both loved and hated, depending on the player you talk to. For me, it was an opportunity to get better, as part of the select few particular walk-ons that got the chance to be in that number. It was sacred; a rite of passage.
Things have changed since the 2007-2011 era of Mizzou Football. The ship has a new captain, the stadium got a full makeover, the players’ faces are new, most coaches have gone on to different places, and the uniforms are much more creative. In those early years, Coach Odom was part of building that great tradition. As the man at the helm of it all, it should be understood that he knows what it takes to build a winning program, and winning programs aren’t built during the season.
They’re built in the offseason, they’re built together, and they’re put together in camp. Former Tigers such as myself and Coach Odom alike, would agree on one thing: being a Tiger isn’t given. It’s earned.