I took my older son Ryan and we went up to Mike's office to get the tickets for entrance to the practice. Mike was a wonderful host. Before taking us onto the field he showed us the new athletic facility from top to bottom. We saw the locker room where it was fun to note how messy some players were and how neat and tidy others were. Perhaps some of the messy ones were late for dressing because they had just aced a midterm. I won't mention the names of the messy lockers or the neat ones. But you might be able to guess some.
Mike showed us how they wow the parents of the recruits with the study hall and the tutors and computer rooms. Then we went into the coaches offices. We saw inside all of them from the new defensive backfield coach to Bronco's corner office. Although it was not large, it was well appointed and appears to be the office of someone who is well organized and cares about the character of his home. Most of the offices have windows looking down to the practice field. I thought to myself that the coaches could sit there and watch the whole practice and take notes on their computer as they watched. Actually not one of them was in his office. They were already on the field conducting practice.
The team strategy rooms were also very impressive. There is one for the defense and one for the offense. They are auditorium-like with the latest computer and video technology. The larger room that was big enough for the whole team had very comfortable seats. The front rows were set up for the big guys with larger seats and wider spacing. I guess that is symbolic of the front line.
The conditioning room is as impressive as had been billed to me. There is certainly enough equipment there to rival any program in the country. They even have special pools with tread mills at the bottom so that injured players can stay in shape by working out in the water taking stress off the injured limb. Several injured players were working out the best they could on various equipment as they were looking out the windows viewing their teammates practicing below.
One thing that was apparent throughout the facility was an upbeat attitude of winning and success in all aspects of the athletes' lives. There were motivational sayings displayed everywhere. The goals for each player were hung in their cubical in the dressing room. Encouragement for the players was posted frequently such that a player could never miss out on what is expected of them both on and off the field.
Mike was very nice to spend so much time with us. The entire facility is very impressive. Recruits and parents have got to be impressed with the place. I don't think there could be a nicer facility anywhere.
It was a beautiful day on the field. By the time we got out there the practice was in full swing. I was impressed with the organization of all that was going on. They set up the practice in time modules, about 10 or 15 minutes each. A lot was happening in all areas of the practice field. When the buzzer went off signaling the next module, everyone seemed to know where they were to go next and hustled there and started the new drill. I had the impression the coaches really plan thoroughly to make every second count. I read something a couple of days ago that the coaches begin their day at 4:00 a.m. strategy meeting. I can only imagine it would take that much time to make this thing work so smoothly. It was much more complicated than I ever imagined it might be.
On the sideline I met several people that were there supporting the team, watching their son, and reporters like G-man. Of special note, I spoke to President Cecil Samuelson. He said he likes to come to practice occasionally to show his support to the team. He and I go way back to our university days when we were fraternity brothers. He introduced me to the parents of Matt Allen from Arizona who were there to visit and view their son in action. Total Blue Sports was well represented with Brandon, Talo, and Scott Paul all there. It was fun for me to see how riveted they were to their assignments talking to the key players and coaches and carefully recording what was said. It was apparent that these men are well respected by the other news reporters. Dick Harmon made glowing comments about one of the TBS staff that embarrassing for that staff member, but I was proud to hear it.
When the scrimmage began, it was obvious that all the players were trying their best to capture playing time when it all starts next fall. The defense looked better than I thought they would. They seemed to have an intensity as a team that was refreshing. They were excited with their success as if it were the first time they had had any all spring. Passes were knocked down and runners were stopped in the backfield. Still the offense had some shining moments. I witnessed why everyone is talking about Vakapuna. McKay Jacobson certainly does run like a deer, and all the tight ends were brilliant. At this practice, Jason Beck looked better than John Beck. He completed a touchdown pass to Zac Collie.
When the final buzzer rang signaling the end of practice, I liked what I felt as the players came to the sideline as I heard them talk to each other and witnessed the expressions on their faces. I saw players that really like each other, players who are very excited about the team and what they are accomplishing. Although they were tired and had worked very hard, they were happy and looked like they were having fun. I really liked that.
My favorite event of the whole experience came at the very end after everyone except one player had left the field. That was Vic So 'oto, the big good looking tight end. He was out on the field rolling along prone for 100 yards. When he finished he began walking like a monkey on all fours for 200 yards. It was obviously exhausting as he would collapse about every 20 yards. I asked G-Man why he was doing it? He said he didn't know for sure, but he must have missed a class or something like that.
After he finished Coach Anae talked to him quietly for about 10 minutes and then So 'oto came to the sideline. We went up to him and asked him why he had to do all that and he confirmed that it was because he had missed a class. I was very impressed for two reasons. First was the young man's attitude about it. His attitude was as nice as any young person could be who had just been caught and punished for such a mistake. He was extremely friendly and fully admitted his mistake. There was no complaining about the punishment or the coaches.
The second reason was that the coaches are diligent about enforcing the academic rules of the team and the university. They really do care about these kids getting an education. Even the stars are subject to the rules. I really like that. I also liked seeing a coach willing to stay after practice with his player until he finished his punishment and then spent time talking to him. Although I didn't hear what he said to the young player, it showed me that the coaching staff is not only serious about building football players, but is equally concerned about building character in each young man.
Congratulations coaches and players. I think this is going to be a great year.
Clint Gurney (The real G-Man)
Auckland, New Zealand