Practice is here. Started yesterday and, as I write this at least, another one is going on now. Football is back and, for this week at least, it’s back in the mornings.
That’s a great way to start. Nights get mythologized when it comes to football — the lights, the atmosphere, the all-day tailgating — and when it comes to watching games, give me a 6 p.m. kickoff over an 11 a.m. kickoff all day. But when we’re talking about practice, mornings are tough to beat.
It feels like how football should start. Swear this won’t turn into a “when I played football” story, but . . . um, when I played football the thing I remember more than any of the games were those mornings in August before the season began.
You woke up while it was still dark out. This being rural Nebraska, if you were at least 14 and “lived in the country” you could drive yourself to practice — school event — so you did with the headlights on. You shuffled into the locker room and suited up. The cleats were heavy. The pants were still half-damp from last night’s practice, but who cared? In 20 minutes you were just going to be stretching in dew-covered grass anyway. Now that I think about it, fall camp in high school was mostly two weeks of being unpleasantly but not quite intolerably wet.
It was quiet in the mornings. Get 40 or 50 high school boys together in almost any setting and the collective din almost always follows. But not at 5:30 a.m. What lay ahead and the aches of what came before kept the chatter to a minimum. Half-asleep, you felt like you’d never be fully awake again. This was the day when you just stayed this way — tired, wet, aching and moving forward only out of a sense of duty. You said you wanted to play football and this is how football starts. How you felt about it didn’t really matter.
But it never stayed that way. The sun eventually came up. The stretches gave way to scrimmages. Legs started to work and blood started to pump. Thirty minutes in you forgot the sense of dread that served as your alarm during those two weeks ever existed. Eventually you just started playing and by the time it was done you felt like you’d gotten something done and it wasn’t even 9 a.m.
Six or seven hours later, you walked the same path in reverse. Music blared in the locker room before the evening practice. It was loud. Everyone was alive at the start, but over the next two hours the coaches would make sure you left feeling nearly dead again.
That was the best way to start a new day.
What does this admittedly romanticized interlude have to do with anything? Nothing, really, other than it’s what the return of football and Nebraska’s morning schedule made me remember.
I assume Nebraska’s pants aren’t wet. The cleats are no longer heavy, though maybe they still feel that way. Two-a-days are outlawed and they start after the sun’s already up. The Huskers have nutritionists and more than one trainer, coaches and consultants, a totally redecorated practice facility. It’s a far cry from what most football players ever get to experience, but at some level — somewhere in there — it is the same.
Maybe the mornings are the link. It’s a strange time for football, but the best time for football. At least in the summer.
And it’s great news for ravenous Husker fans. What’s better than a flood of football news right around lunch on a weekday? We had a bunch yesterday. We’ll have more tomorrow when practice is open to the media again.
I guess the overall point of what I’m sad to admit turned into a “when I played football story” is this: Happy Football Season.
The Grab Bag
- In an interview with NESN, Rex Burkhead says he’s ready to do whatever it takes to see the field for New England. Pretty sure Belichick will be able to work with that.
- In other NFL news, Jordan Westerkamp signed with the Dolphins on Sunday.
- Tom Shatel looks at the dual story lines that have the potential to define Nebraska’s season in 2017.
- Who is Hugh Freeze? It’s a complicated picture and it’s probably only going to get more complicated in the weeks to come.
Today’s Song of Today