When I see parents, taking or sending their sons off to football training camps throughout the country, it’s hard to believe that was me 45 years ago. Let me take you down memory lane. This was my journey.
After signing with the then Marshall University’s Young Thundering Herd, I spent my summer in Huntington, West Virginia, working for Diniaco & Sons Painting Contractors. When I rolled into Huntington, it was a late June afternoon, a little after 3:00 PM. The heat was breathtaking. I stopped at a service station to get directions to East Towers on the Marshall campus. The attendant asked, “Are you one of the new basketball players?” I smiled and said, “Actually, I’m here to play football.” The guy said, “No kidding! I pictured you as a basketball player.” I said, “Wait until you see me hit somebody.” He said, “We’re going to need a lot of those around here.” I ended the conversation by saying, “I hope I don’t disappoint you.”
The East Tower was positioned in an ideal location, the middle of Marshall’s campus. The workout facility was across the street, downtown was a ten-minute walk, and my work was about a ten-minute drive. I unpacked and called Reggie Oliver, who came by to give me a tour of campus and Fairfield Stadium. Fairfield Stadium was where Marshall home games were played until “The Joan” replaced it during 1999. Reggie and I discussed Coach Lengyel’s summer conditioning drills, which were hard. We wanted to follow them without fail.
Reggie and I started working out when I got off work. Reggie had an extraordinary work ethic and was a confident, natural-born leader. No matter how tired we were, we didn’t cut corners because we wanted to be in excellent shape when training camp started. We executed our workouts outside Gullickson Hall daily. In addition to our workout, I ran fifteen flights of steps in my dorm at least three times every night.
After completing Coach Lengyel’s required conditioning drills, I used to run routes for Reggie to give him an opportunity to strengthen his arm. Running pass routes increased my speed and stamina. Before we knew it, the entire team arrived for two-a-days and sometimes three-a-days. I appreciated every football practice because like life, the day would come when I wouldn’t be able to practice anymore, just like the day when I would take my last breath.
Coach Lengyel required every player to run two miles inside twelve minutes. Reggie and I didn’t have any problem with that, but some players struggled.
Fairfield Stadium’s artificial playing surface was about ten feet below the stands and could get up to 114 degrees on the practice field. The facilities department built an air conditioning booth for the players when we came off the field. The training staff gave us water and sprayed us down with water when our pads were removed. These precautions kept us hydrated. In spite of the training staff’s effort, several players, including me, had to be treated for dehydration. Those who got dehydrated or lost too much weight, 5-6 pounds were held out of the next practice. We practiced from 8:30 to 11:30, 3:30 to 5:30, and 8:00 to 9:00. We enjoyed the air conditioning booth throughout summer camp and the first two games, until our opponents filed a complaint with the NCAA, and we had to remove our air conditioning booth because there wasn’t the same accommodations on the opponent’s sidelines.
I reported to camp with an undisclosed torn deltoid in my left shoulder. The trainer, Vic Winburn, used three rolls of tape and an adhesive spray to secure my left shoulder before every practice. The tape hurt when I took it off, and it removed my chest hairs and skin. I’d bleed in the shower, and the soap and water stung my scrapes. A few weeks later, when my shoulder harness came in, it was like Christmas. This harness was my best friend, and I wanted to take it back to my dorm.
During the two-a-days, my pain was bad. I used to dread the alarm going off, and I had difficulty washing my back in the shower because my left arm was tight and sore, and I had trouble getting dressed, as my left arm often felt numb. I wore slip-ons to avoid having to tie my shoes. I’d hobble to the cafeteria, where I had to balance my tray on my right hand.
However, whenever I got to the locker room, got undressed, and got my ankles and shoulder taped, the pain seemed to go away. In spite of my debilitating injuries and illnesses, I didn’t miss more than five practices in my whole football life, fourteen years. I had a passion for the game. When I stepped on the practice field, my mind was in a place where nothing else mattered. The pain didn’t matter until I walked off the field. I received treatment and pressed on.
I had a high threshold for pain and an incentive to keep playing because I had dedicated my college football career to Scottie Reese. Scottie was one of the crash victims who preceded me. Putting someone ahead of myself set me up for success. It was as if a supernatural power had given me the will to do things others would have deemed unimaginable. God rewarded me because I was thinking of someone else. When you do well for someone else you will receive countless blessings.
This blog is an excerpt from my book, “Against All Odds – 4th Down and Forever”. Failure is not an option! If you think you can, you will. If you think you can’t, you won’t. If you don’t take a chance, you don’t stand a chance.