Dealing With The Heat

FAYETTEVILLE — Green Gatorade bottles, used for water, littered the sidelines on the Arkansas football team's practice field south of Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Big, orange jugs of water lined the wall behind the one of the end zones.

At any time during Monday's practice, any player had the right to pick up a bottle or fill up a glass. That's been the standing policy at Arkansas since athletic trainer Dean Weber arrived in Fayetteville more than three decades ago.

"Our players can get a drink any time they need one," Weber said. "I was involved in a heat-related death in 1972 (while on North Carolina's staff). I don't ever want to go through that again. It wasn't pretty."

Temperatures this week are skyrocketing into triple digits. And allowing unlimited fluids at practice is one of many measures the Arkansas training staff takes to prevent heat-related injuries.

In fact, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said he couldn't remember a preseason camp as hot and as humid as this year's. The most visible change because of the heat is the lack of a day with two seperate practices. Two-a-days could be a thing of the past at Arkansas.

Asked whether he planned on scheduling a two-a-day before Arkansas' opener with Troy on Sept. 1, Nutt said, "I don't think so."

"I think we're doing a smart thing this year by going to one (practice) a day," Nutt said. "We're walking- through (indoors) more in the morning, and going at night because of how hot it is."

This means Razorback players spend all but two to three hours outdoors in a normal day. They attend classes in air conditioning. They conduct a morning walk-through (workout) in air conditioning. They lift weights in air conditioning. They conduct team meetings in air conditioning. They eat in air conditioning.

"Our bodies are used to being indoors," Weber said. "It's hard to acclimate. It's not like the '40s, '50s and '60s, and even the '70s, '80s and '90s to some extent, when you could get away with practicing all day in the heat.

"We live in a society where even athletes are used to being in air conditioning most of the time," Weber said.

In addition, the players drink water or Gatorade. All day.

Weber ensures the players have the necessary resources to stay hydrated.

"Our big emphaisis is prevention," Weber said. "That's our key word. We really emphasize drinking as many fluids as possible. ‘Eat fruits, drink a ton of water.' That's what we tell them.

"We even leave them each a case of water or a gallon of water in the their lockers every couple of days."

Even with all the preventative measures, Weber said a few players inevitably succumb to heat-related injuries. The amount of injuries, compared with past seasons, has shrunk considerably, Weber said.

Weber remembers a practice in the early 1990s when he had to "haul off eight (players) in my pickup truck to the emergency room to get IVs." Even now, Weber still keeps an eye out for symptoms of heat-related injuries during practice.

"Some people might think we're soft," Weber said. "But we're going to get to the bus. That's our motto. We can't beat them up or tire them out in camp. We've got to get them to the bus, get them to the first game healthy."

He especially keeps a close look on players such as defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell, who has a history of being bothered by the heat.

Mitchell, like his teammates, dedicates every day to prevention.

"I try to drink a gallon of water, take a potassium pill and eat lots of salt on my food," Mitchell said. "I especially like the last part. I like lots of salt on my food."

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