It’s hot. It’s humid. And North Alabama has reached the midway point of preseason practice with players grinding their way through with the season-opener against Western Illinois just two weeks away.
The Lions have one more scrimmage slated for Saturday morning at Braly Stadium before game preparations begin in earnest.
However, there are still position battles being fought and questions remain unanswered. One of the challenges for coaches is to balance keeping the team healthy and fresh and also making sure it is getting enough work in. No longer are teams allowed to practice two or three times in one day.
“I remember when you would go out and practice in the morning, lift weights between the two practices, go back out at 3 and practice and then go back that night and have special teams practice,” UNA coach Chris Willis said after Wednesday’s morning practice. “You wonder how in the world did we do that back then.”
Quarterback Christian Lopez said the biggest thing is making sure players get enough fluids.
“The biggest thing is trying to stay hydrated,” he said. “It’s so hot and humid and you are sweating out so much water it is tough to stay hydrated.”
The Lions are still in the portion of camp where they are working on installing all of their offense and defense. Lopez said camp never gets boring, but the day-in and day-out routine can get tedious.
“You are always watching film,” he said. “It gets tedious where you are watching film over and over and over again — doing the same things over and over. But that’s part of it. We’re still working on us. Getting into next week we’ll start working on Western Illinois.”
To combat the tedium, Willis said he tries to vary things up at practice — whether it is from the length of practice or in what order things are done.
“At this point in camp it is a grind,” he said. “We are still (practicing) sometimes morning and sometimes night. We just had our 14th practice and there’s been only one day when we didn’t practice. We’ve had something football related every day.”
As the heat and humidity climbed into the 100s this week, Willis changed some of the routine in order to try to keep things fresh for players.
“We’ve been going 24 periods, which is the equivalent of two hours,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll knock it down to 21 or 18. (Wednesday) we went 15 periods. It might not seem like much but they can feel that.”
Often, the team will do scrimmage work at the end of practice. On Wednesday, Willis switched it up and the Lions did that at the start of practice.
“You have to do different things – we play the music out there, they like that,” Willis said. “You try to do the best you can. It’s still football camp. I don’t want them to think that just because it is hot we are going to call practice off.”
Also, there is a purpose to the grind of long days, Willis said.
“What I want to see from the guys on these long days, these hot days is just fight through it,” he said. “Show me you are trying to get back. Be down there in that treatment room when it opens, be out there encouraging your players. Be over on the side doing individual drills if you can’t have contact. Show me that even if you are a little beat up or sore, you will fight through it.”
It all goes into the evaluation process.
“We need to know who we can count on late in the fourth quarter,” Willis said. “Who wants to stand in there and fight to win that football game? A lot of things you do in camp help you figure that out.”