Randy Campbell was a sophomore quarterback in the summer 1981, when Pat Dye was preparing his first Auburn football team for the season to come. He remembers it vividly.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
“I can remember players being so tired,” Campbell says, “that coaches would hold them up at the line of scrimmage. When the ball was snapped, they’d shove them in there.”
Chette Williams, now Auburn’s team chaplain, was there, too, as a freshman defensive lineman.
“In my years on this earth,” Williams says, “it was the hardest I thing I’ve ever gone through.”
Bear Bryant took his first Texas A&M team to Junction, Texas, for a preseason camp so torturous that even he regretted it in his later years.
Thirty years later, much has changed. NCAA rules have all but eliminated two-a-days. Auburn will have just three two-practice days as it prepares for its season-opener against Utah State. Water is available for the asking. A glittering new indoor practice facility that can be used not just to escape rain and lightning, but to escape the oppressive heat of August. There will even be three off days for players before school starts on Aug. 17.
Medical people long clamored for a change. A spate of heat-related deaths finally brought that change. Some coaches protested, but team doctors and trainers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.
Not so long ago, two-a-day practices lasted for weeks. Some days there were more than two practices. Go back a further and there was time when there was no water available at practice. Players were given salt tablets. It’s a wonder more didn’t die.
The elimination of most two-a-day practices didn’t bring doom to the game as some coaches predicted. Most would say the game today is better than it’s ever been. Preseason practice is about preparing for the season, not about survival.
“I think everybody gets used to doing the same thing and they are all afraid to change,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I think it’s for safety reasons for the players and coaches. I think it works out well. We are always trying to look for the best thing we can do for the players, what’s best for them. I think there are real advantages.”
In the old days, most players went home for the summers and worked to earn money for the school year. They were expected to work out and report back in shape. Some did. Some didn’t. Today, almost all college football players stay on campus in the summers and work out with strength and conditioning coaches. They have “voluntary” practices with no coaches present.
Preseason camp is still hard, very hard. But the old ways are gone forever.
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