FOOTBALL CAMP: What I Did On Summer Vacation...

As Saturday arrived, I was a bit anxious not knowing what to expect at the third annual Women's Football Clinic at the University of Florida. The O'Dome had plenty of parking, but not for long. Soon women of all ages flowed into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

You could feel the excitement in the air. Women who had been there last year were telling the first timers what was in store for them and others were comparing notes on the distances they had traveled to be there. Some just laughed at how jealous their husbands were because, of course, no men were allowed!

The lines were very long - you only saw 1/10th of the line from this angle!

When we checked in, we were given a raffle ticket for prizes and then received a loaded "goodie" bag. Then it was up the elevators to grab our seats in the Touchdown Terrace.

It was almost like a carnival atmosphere with several booths by sponsors such as UF, Shands Hospital, and the Dairy Council --- there were plenty of great prizes and freebies for us to grab as we entered the meeting area. Of course, no Gator event would be complete without a visit from Albert and Alberta, both of whom were there in all their glory.

Coaches Mattison, Heater, Addazio, and Hevesy were absolutely great!

Upon entering the meeting area, four of the football assistant coaches were waiting for all of us with open arms They were coaches Greg Mattison, John Hevesy, Chuck Heater and Steve Addazio. They seemed psyched and ready to teach us gals a few things about football. They also took the time sign our posters and posed for photos with the ladies.

Several players were also on hand for photos and autographs, signing just about everything that was put in front of them. They were definitely a great bunch of guys to take the time out of their busy schedules to spend with us for this awesome event. Nyan Boateng is pictured on the right.

It was sort of controlled chaos with ladies everywhere shuffling around to grab autographs, photos, and just to chat up the coaches until Coach Meyer appeared through the sea of Orange and Blue! We all headed his way and started lining up immediately for yet more autographs and photos with the Head Ball Coach.

Eventually, the show got started when Coach Mattison took the microphone and somehow managed to quiet down over 700 women to get things officially underway. He went over the day's agenda and introduced all of the coaches, staff, and assistants. Coach Mattison came across as a very professional and likable guy. Actually, all the coaches were great --- they were very nice and had a great sense of humor, but at the same time you could tell they were in their element as very successful coaches.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty...

There were several speakers at the meeting, ranging from referees, nutritionists, athletic trainers and more. Some interesting tidbits out of these was the athletic trainer talking about their new air conditioned shoulder pads that the players will be wearing, and a special pill that they'll swallow to monitor their temperature internally while on the field via special radio frequencies.

Shelley Meyer (photo, left) also took the time to speak and she came across as a very strong-minded woman and a great leader in her own right. She's also extremely likeable and very family-oriented. She mentioned that all the wives of the coaches are highly educated and that because their husbands' jobs are so demanding, the wives usually end up "running the whole show" at home. She also said they're glad to finally get a break from all the moving, unpacking, etc., and look forward to staying in Gainesville for a very long time.

We all broke for lunch and then afterwards, we were split into two groups (orange and blue, naturally!). Our group went to the practice fields first and participated in numerous drills with the four assistant coaches. It was very hot out there as well as humid ---thankfully there was plenty of water and Gatorade available.

The ladies were split into two groups on two fields

Next we were ushered off the field into THE LOCKER ROOM! It's one of the most amazing places to see. When you head to the tunnel, you can only imagine what's ahead. It's a shrine to players of the past, present, and the future. Lots of awards and plaques plus photos and inspirational quotes adorned the walls. And then there was the famous Gator head that the players touch for good luck before they run out on the field on game day. I've never seen so much orange and blue! Even the huge showers had orange tiles all over.

The famous Gator head for good luck...

What was really cool about the locker room was the orange and blue nameplates above every locker with a player's name and Gator head engraved on it. Very classy! We also saw the shoe cleaning area, the refreshment station, monstrous weight room, medical room, movie room, and so much more. It really is a different world of its own and just seeing it makes you respect what these guys have to do to get ready for every game as a Florida Gator.

After we did a few more drills in The Swamp, it was time to replicate the ritual of running out of the locker rooms through the tunnel and out onto the field. You could feel the excitement building because we were going to do something our husbands won't ever do --- run through the tunnel to THE SWAMP! They started playing the Jaws theme and the video on the jumbotrons was the same one you see when the Gators take the field just before a game.

We all rubbed the Gator head just like the players do and jumped up and down to get really psyched. There was a ton of noise and as we ran out, we jumped up to slap the "YOU'LL NEVER LEAVE THE SWAMP ALIVE" sign framed above the tunnel door. As we exited the tunnel, we could see a long line of other women, players, and coaches all lined up for us to run through. They all hand slapped us as we finally reached the field breathlessly. We were really fired up and ready to defend The Swamp. I can truly see how and why the players and coaches get so fired up as they run out there on game day --- it was a feeling like none other in the world! I've never experienced anything like it!

What it looks like as the tunnel forms...

It was a great way to end the camp and the coaches all came out to thank us for being a part of their spectacular day. It was really enjoyable to spend time with them and they had tremendous enthusiasm and energy to share with us. Not only did we learn a lot about the fundamentals of football, but we also learned what it really meant to be a Florida Gator --- both as a player and coach. Next time I watch the Gators run out on the field for a real game, I'll have a totally different feeling this time. In addition to having a better understanding of what's going on the field, I'll also have a feeling of respect, awe, and belonging. In other words, I'll be feeling that it's GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR!

Coach Urban Meyer and Nicole Hines

For more photos, view our photo gallery from the camp!

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