That's what it was like for the 24 freshmen on this year's Florida State University football team. Not only do they have concerns that every other freshman has, but they have they added pressure of jumping head-first into one of the premier programs in college football.
A year ago at this time they were the big men on campus. As high school seniors they had every thing down to a tee. Now they are back to square one, but the stakes are higher. Freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford allowed a member of the FSU sports information office and Seminole Productions to spend "A Day in the Life" of a freshman on their first day of practice.
"It's going to be very challenging, mentally and physically," Weatherford said of the first day. "It's going to be exciting. I feel like it's going to be a great experience, especially since it's my freshman year and hopefully I can get ready to play."
The wake up call from the managers comes promptly at 6:45 a.m., but Weatherford, a Land O' Lakes, Fla. native, and his roommate, freshman offensive lineman Geoff Berniard from Lafayette, La., were up at 6:30 a.m. The night before they went to bed at 11 p.m., but Weatherford admitted that it was tough to sleep as he spent part of the night thinking about what would be in store for him on his first day.
Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. at the cafeteria in the newly-completed Moore Athletic Center. Attended by players, coaches, trainers, strength & conditioning staff, equipment managers and team mangers, it is one of the first team meals served in the new facility. While the team eats, they get a visit from athletics director Dave Hart and Andy Urbanic, associate director of athletics for football operations and special projects.
The freshman are the first to arrive with a steady stream of upperclassmen rolling in between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Weatherford, who brought his playbook—which goes everywhere this day –cell phones and ankle braces, sits with fellow rookies JR Bryant and Trevor Ford, a pair of defensive backs from Miami. This early it's mostly just small talk with some mention of freshmen having to shave their heads.
Following breakfast, the freshman go to the equipment room at 7:45 a.m. to get fitted for their equipment, in particular helmets and shoulder pads. Most freshman got fitted over the summer when they sacrificed their vacation to come up to condition with the rest of the team, but Dave Delegal and his staff double check those players who were fitted over the summer and get the right measurements for those that just arrived. Weatherford is given the option of two sets of shoulders pads with the idea of finding the right pair that will facilitate his throwing motion while still keeping him safe.
"It wasn't hard to give up my summer, because this is where I want to be," Weatherford said. "This was not a job for me at all. I love doing it. I know it's going to rough, but I'm excited. I wouldn't have been up here all summer if I didn't love it. I feel like had the best summer of all my friends in a way. Having the privilege to go to the school that I've always wanted to go to, hopefully it's a start of great career here."
Before the 8:30 a.m. meeting with the entire offense, Weatherford and fellow freshman Xavier Lee, from Daytona Beach, Fla., meet with quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey. Now in his fourth season at Florida State, Dickey talks to the two rookies about the instillation of the offense and the expectations that will be placed upon two of the top ten high school quarterbacks in the class of 2004.
After the offensive meeting, all the freshmen have their academic orientation with director of academic advising, Mark Meleney, and his staff. One of the main emphases of the meeting is getting through to the freshmen that they have a clean academic slate at this point and the importance of getting off to a good start during their freshman year.
The student-athletes are told about the school's code of conduct, attendance policy, add/drop policy, NCAA eligibility rules, study halls, tutors and setting goals. Stressing that the student aspect of being a student-athletes comes first, Meleney tells the rookies "You'll always be a student before you'll be an athlete in our facility."
"I think is that our class is really, really, close," Weatherford added. "It's seems like that with everybody. The seniors don't treat us bad because we're freshmen. They do little things here and there, but I thought it would be a lot worse. Our freshmen class is really tight and we hang out a lot and that's going to really benefit us."
Lunch for the team is held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Weatherford eats with rookie linebackers Jae Thaxton and Rodney Gallon and freshman defensive tackle Aaron Jones—and after the players are done eating it is one of the few times during the day that there is some down time. Most of the players hang out in the locker room waiting for the State of the Union speech from head coach Bobby Bowden at 2 p.m. Weatherford steals a few minutes to look over the playbook. While the rest of the team got their equipment in the morning, at 1 p.m. the freshman are issued the gear they were fitted for a few hours ago.
Before any player can step foot on to the field wearing an issued piece of equipment, they have to be checked out by the athletic training staff. The helmet is checked to see that doesn't move too much on the player's head and protects the base of their skull. Shoulder pads should go down far enough to protect the sternum and also allow for a range of motion with the neck.
Cleared by the trainers, Weatherford takes both of his shoulders pads back to his locker, which is located next to starting quarterback Chris Rix. The majority of players have a name plate on their locker with their name and number. For reasons he can't explain, Weatherford's name plate has not been finished. Instead his locker is adorned by a piece of athletic tape that has "#11 Weatherford" written by a black Sharpie. Weatherford's locker contains both sets of shoulders pads, helmet, a towel, the ever present playbook, water bottle, ankle braces, workout clothes and the Bible.
The freshmen are the first to get taped by the trainers at 2:45 p.m., followed by the rest of the team in 15 minute intervals by class. The training room prior to the first day of practice is one of the busiest places and is even busier after the first practice in full pads. Newcomers are getting some extra taping just to be safe, while the upperclassmen are trying to take care any nagging injuries.
With the taping complete, the team loosely assembles in the locker room before heading out to the practice field around 3:15 p.m. Mannerisms alone separate the upperclassmen from the freshman. As music waivers back and fourth from hip-hop, rock, country to alternative, the returners are relaxed and having fun. A few even catch up on sleep in the team lounge.
By contrast, nearly every freshman is sitting quietly in their locker, waiting for that first chance to step on the field for the first time as a Florida State Seminole. Admittedly "anxious", Weatherford goes through some last minute adjustments, getting the spikes in his cleats tightened one more time.
"I think that for the first time it will finally all sink in that I'm here and that I'm living out my dream," Weatherford said of stepping on the field. "I always thought it would be when I signed or when I first started working out in the weight room, but I think once I step on the field with my helmet on it will all sink in."
Before practice formerly commences at 3:30 p.m., most of the players go out to the field to loosen up a bit on their own. The quarterbacks start with some throwing to get their arms warm. Rix and sophomore Wyatt Sexton have someone to catch the returning throws to avoid any potential injuries, but for the rookies Weatherford and Lee they're throwing and receiving.
Dickey works with the two freshmen on the cadence for the snap count and how to take the snap from center. They also cover the proper footwork for handing off the ball, pass drops and ball fakes. As the squad assembles for stretching, Dickey tells Sexton to keep an eye on the freshman to make sure they know were to go. Head strength and condition coach Jon Jost and his staff start with footwork drills before taking the team through all the stretches as coach Bowden looks on from his golf cart.
"They haven't necessarily told us about two days, but more about stuff off the field, dealing girls, realizing that you're going to be looked at quite bit playing quarterback here, and how little things can be blown up into big media uproars," Weatherford said of Rix and Sexton's advice. "They've definitely warned me how big the spotlight is here."
Once stretching is complete, the team breaks off with the majority of the players working on special teams while the quarterbacks and centers work on taking the snap. For Rix and Sexton, the drills are about getting back into routine, but for the freshmen duo it is just on more new things to learn. While they've done thousands of times in high school, Dickey shows Weatherford and Lee how it is done at Florida State.
The first practice of the season is about getting all the players back on the same page. Plays are walked through first before going at game speed. Most of the snaps in practice go to Rix and Sexton, with Weatherford and Lee splitting the rest. For those two, the first day is more about watching and learning that actually running the plays. You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.
"It's nice having people that are going through the same situations," Weatherford commented. "We all don't necessarily feel 100 percent comfortable, but it's nice to have guys that feel the same way so you don't feel out of place. It's like a really big family."
Perhaps the hardest part of practice comes at the end when the team gathers for conditioning. After being outside in the heat for three hours, every player has to run four sets of three sprints the width of the field. Players are broken down into groups by position and if everyone in the group doesn't finish or make it in the allotted time, the entire group has to run again. Weatherford has no problems making the times, leading the group of quarterbacks, full backs, tight ends and kickers.
The final team meal of the day at 6:15 p.m. is always the most lighthearted meal of the first day as everyone is relieved to have that first practice out of the way. One of the few mandates that they upperclassmen put on the newcomers is that they must stand up on their chair and sing a song during dinner. Weatherford picked the hip-hop classic "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang.
After dinner Weatherford and Lee meet with Dickey one more time before all the quarterbacks meet at 8:30 p.m. for the segment meeting. In this final meeting the quarterbacks go over the things they covered in practice that day and what's to come during tomorrow's practice.
Exhausted from a long day, Weatherford sits down for one more interview as the big screen TV in the team lounge projects the NFL Hall of Fame Game on ABC. With so much going on the first day, and having never taken a snap in college or thrown a touchdown pass, Weatherford has had the added attention of having a camera crew and a guy with a notebook following his every move this day. Naturally there has been some extra attention from the upperclassmen, some good-natured barbs here and there, but Weatherford has taken it all in stride with a smile on his face. And how can he not, he's living his dream.
Lights out is at 11 p.m., but that's not going to be a problem for Weatherford and the rest of the freshmen class. Today has been a long, but it's just the first day in the rest of their life as a football player at Florida State.