Summer heat fires team spirit

When asked recently about proposals to limit even further the supervision of athletes working out during the summer, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione chose his words carefully. But his message was clear. <br><br>"Someone's going to have to explain that one to me," Franchione said. "People that compete at this level--that want to be good--are going to work out. They have to."

The NCAA in its "infinite wisdom" may very well end up passing legislation to limit further how squads prepare for the fall season. But for now the Tide players are in Tuscaloosa working and sweating together under the blistering Alabama sun. "We're here so we can be better in the fourth quarter," said senior defensive tackle Jarret Johnson. "That's exactly why. If you haven't been working out and you're not in top shape, then you're not going to be as strong as your opponent. Everybody works out in the summer."

If you don't believe that summer conditioning is hard work, just look at the pain reflected in Santonio Beard's face. He and Donald Clarke (left rear) wait their turn as Triandos Luke (right) prepares to sprint.

To one degree or another Johnson's statement is certainly true. All major college teams provide programs for their players to exercise during the summer. But not all teams enjoy the same level of player dedication. "We're here to try to get better," is how junior Rover Brooks Daniels explained it. "Try to get better and stronger for the season. If we don't train together, then we won't put anything together during the year. We wouldn't be like we are now."

Of course as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, it's Ben Pollard's job to be the summer taskmaster. But he hasn't found motivation to be difficult at all. "It's not just gaining 10 pounds on your bench press; that's not it," Pollard said. "I want them to really keep in mind that we are here with the goal of winning those 13 football games. I motivate that way. Even the kid that doesn't like the weight room is going to understand that you'll either be a part of us having success or you're probably not going to be part of it."

"I have higher expectations this summer," Pollard continued. "We have the opportunity to have a good football team. The athletes knew we needed to have a good summer. Just that fact--keeping the end in sight--is key."

Technically the summer sessions are not mandatory. (Though as Franchione puts it, neither is it mandatory that anyone plays this fall.) Given that fact, it's not at all uncommon for veteran and star players on various teams to find an excuse to skip all or part of the grueling summer work. But every scholarshipped player has been in Tuscaloosa all summer long. And the majority of new signees are on campus now as well.

Senior wideout Antonio Carter commented, "Summer is when you win. That's what is going to take care of those 13 games. Who is working in June when it's hot and humid. Someone is inside saying, ‘Man, it's too hot. I'm going to wait until the sun goes down.'

Covered in sweat, Cornelius Wortham (center) and Donnie Lowe (left) go through wind sprints in the Indoor Facility.

"But that's not going to win. You have to be out there in that heat."

Certainly it's possible for an athlete to work out on his own, but the results simply are not the same. Johnson explained, "A guy that's been working out and running all summer with his teammates is a lot stronger than a kid that's been home. It's just not possible to work out as hard by yourself as with your teammates."

Senior guard Marico Portis thinks the players' second summer with Pollard has been even more effective than the first. "Everyone is a lot more focused," Portis explained. "Everyone understands what Coach Pollard is trying to do in the conditioning program. We go in with a purpose. It's going even better because we understand what he's trying to get us to do. Last year was his first year and we were just playing it by ear, trying to figure it out. But now we know what we've got to do. We've just got to focus and do it."

When an athlete digs deep to fight through heat and fatigue to finish a conditioning run, it's all about team. No matter what, don't let your teammates down. "It's good for us working in the summer," Daniels said. "During those last four victories last year, I believe we got closer (as a team) than anybody in the country. Working out together, talking to each other, seeing each other every day, that will bring us even closer."

Junior cornerback Roberto McBride labors to catch his breath before sprinting again. Behind him left to right are Shaud Williams, Roman Harper, Santonio Beard and Derrick Pope.

Of course this year several Tide seniors are also hoping to get a shot at pro football, and Pollard pointed out the added importance of summer workouts to them. "Jarret Johnson, Kindal Moorehead and Kenny King---there are three seniors hoping to go on," Pollard said. "How well an athlete does this season and how much money he makes in the spring is all depending on how much time and effort he puts in this summer.

"I'm not lying to them when I tell them that."

All-SEC center Alonzo Ephraim is another senior who may very well end up playing on Sundays, but for now he's working out daily with his Tide teammates. "The only thing that's keeping us going during the hot days is each other," he explained. "We're trying to get in the best shape we can right now. We push each other, and through that competition we get better. We had a lot of young guys last year that were looking forward to playing, but they really didn't have the feel. We're not just standing at one set level. The seniors are setting the tone, and we're always encouraging each other."

"Two-a-days are going to be hot," Carter added. "You've got to get used to that heat. I'm looking forward to it. We're excited and can't wait.

"If it's important to you, you'll be here. If it's not important to you, then we don't care."

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