Wiedmer: Two-a-days real start of UTC practices

Wiedmer: Two-a-days real start of UTC practices

August 6th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC Mocs coach Russ Huesman talks with players during a practice at Scrappy Moore Field.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

UTC running back Marquis Green, center, breaks up the middle around defensive back Lucas Webb, right, and defensive lineman Josh Freeman (95) during a Mocs' spring football scrimmage at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.

UTC running back Marquis Green, center, breaks up...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Three years worth of two-a-day workouts in his hip pocket, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga redshirt junior defensive tackle Josh Freeman had some wise words Tuesday for true freshman running back Richardre Bagley.

"Go to bed early," Freeman said with a smile. "Rest up."

If the Masters begins on Sunday's back nine at Augusta National, preseason college football practice begins in earnest with two-a-days, those twice-daily exercises in blood, sweat and tears that start anew this morning for the Mocs atop warm and muggy Scrappy Moore Field.

Not that coach Russ Huesman necessarily sees these modern-day diabolical doubles in such savage terms. A survivor of former UTC coach Joe Morrison's twice-daily torture chambers at the dawn of the 1980s, Huesman can make it sound as if the walk to Scrappy back in his day was five miles instead of five minutes and the only way to get water was to fetch it from the Tennessee River.

"The approach to two-a-days was a lot different back then," he said. "There were no practice-time limitations. No practice-day limitations. You showed up, were fitted for pads, and good luck to you. We tell these kids all the old stories and they don't believe half of it. But I guarantee you if any of them had to go through one day of 'Packer Practice' with [then-assistant coach] Joe Lee Dunn, they'd all quit football for good."

But that was back when two-a-days could last for weeks, practices could drag on for hours and part of the reason for such cruelty was to get players back in playing shape after a long summer off.

In fact, the current Mocs will endure only four two-a-days total: today, Friday, Monday and next Wednesday.

"It was a different mentality 35 years ago," Huesman continued. "I'd go home and play softball in the summer. If you did that now, you'd be in a world of hurt [with your teammates]. They stay here most of the summer and work out. They're in pretty good shape when practice starts. If they're not, something's wrong."

A quick glance at Tuesday morning's practice supported the coach's claim. Well-honed muscles glistened with sweat on almost every player. Soft bellies were as scarce as the sound of silence, thanks to the booming music -- if you could label the rough rap lyrics blaring from the oversized speakers as music. Players claiming to be injured (often a sign of poor conditioning) were all but invisible.

And the freshman class seems as well-conditioned as anyone, according to senior defensive end Zach Rayl.

"Oh, they're ballers, they're awesome," he said. "Best class I've ever seen come through here."

If they are, if young guns such as Bagley wind up seriously contributing to what most believe will be a special UTC season, both their physical and mental preparation entering their first preseason drills likely will have played a pivotal role.

"It's everything I expected," said Bagley, who believes he last experienced a two-a-day workout during his sophomore year of high school in Georgia, before rules limited such work. "You're going against faster guys, bigger guys, smarter guys. They're making you better every day."

Huesman said this is the goal of two-a-days now, not so much to toughen players mentally and physically but to find which ones can most help the team going forward.

"How much am I going to learn about Davis Tull that I don't already know?" Huesman said in referring to the two-time Southern Conference defensive player of the year. "But two-a-days give you a great opportunity to look at redshirt freshmen who haven't played for awhile and true freshmen who are just learning the system. A lot of this is about figuring out which players are going to become the last five or six of your first 22. But it's not a boot camp anymore."

Freeman long has been penciled in for those top 22. Rayl is expected to be in the mix for a starting job, all but guaranteed many meaningful minutes on the defensive front.

Both have offered advice to the newcomers about the best way to survive today and beyond.

"You haven't been through camp," Rayl said. "You're still a rookie. Eat, drink and sleep as much as you can. Don't do anything else."

Added Freeman: "We warn them. We let them know what's about to happen."

Bagley seems to be listening.

"I've been going to bed around 10 [p.m.]," he said Tuesday morning while noting his 5:10 a.m. alarm clock setting. "But I think I'll make it 9:30 tonight."

If enough of his awesome baller classmates follow Bagley's lead, they might indeed prove to be the best recruiting class in UTC history. If not, at least Joe Lee Dunn's Packer Practice is no longer around to make them disappear.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.