What's the price of playing football at Auburn? After a long off-season of early morning weight-lifting, spring practice and "voluntary" workouts, when camp opens this week players will be greeted by temperatures fit for only a cactus. For whatever reason, the Auburn coaching staff has decided to hold most of its practices in the late afternoon rather than the morning. Here's a look at this week's daily forecast for Auburn:
High 98, Low 76
High 97, Low 76
High 98, Low 75
High 96, Low 76
There are only isolated chances of rain each day. Factor in the heat index and the temperatures soar to well over a 100 degrees each day next week.
Even by Auburn standards, the heat has been unbearable for the past few weeks. The humidity has been through the roof. It's without question, one of the hottest, most miserable summers on record. Luckily for the players, there are only three two-a-days planned this summer. That's three too many in my book, but better than years past.
As bad as things sound for these guys, they used to be worse. Most of you who played high school football many years ago can remember coaches holding out water breaks when you didn't perform to their liking.
We've all heard the legendary tale of Bear Bryant taking his 1954 Texas A&M squad to Junction, Texas for preseason conditioning. Three buses left College Station and only one returned. The conditions at the camp would likely land Bryant in prison today.
Pat Dye's first years on campus have become something of folklore among Tiger fans. In a time where there were few NCAA restrictions on practice, Dye was known to conduct four-a-days for the entire month of August, with most of those sessions in full pads. Back in those days, Auburn was on the quarter system and school didn't start until late September, allowing Dye to run his own customized boot camp on steroids.
While Dye may have taken things to another level, he was hardly the exception in those years. Practicing long hours and pushing players to the edge of death supposedly built mental toughness and prepared players for the fourth quarter on Saturday. It was a practice carried out by most coaching staffs.
Looking back, you wonder how coaches didn't realize the dangers. I suppose it's akin to why we didn't wear seat belts for the first 70 years cars were in service. For whatever reason, we just didn't see the importance.
A series of incidents slowly changed things. One of those incidents hit close to home in 1983 when Auburn fullback Greg Pratt collapsed and died at practice due to heat related illness. His death stunned the Auburn family.
Today, the NCAA has mandated that plenty of time be given between two-a-days. Practice time has been regulated and water breaks are available on an as needed basis rather than part of an award system. Education has also done a lot for how coaches view things now.
Even with all the changes, the next four weeks will be beyond hot. Young players will push their bodies in ways none of us can imagine. High expectations and high heat will get the best of many of these players. Most will tell you the mental aspect is the toughest.
It's a ritual that's happening all across America. Coaching staffs will be separating the great from the good. Careers will be made and broken over the next month. Football season is here. Take time to pray for their safety.
That's what matters most.