Something unusual happened inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Friday evening as the veteran group of Cardinals were nearing the end of their final split practice session.
With 20 or so minutes remaining in the practice session, University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino blew his whistle in a manner that often signals the end of practice. No, this wasn't a case of coach being pleased and calling practice early. Following the whistle were the commands, “helmets and shoulder pads against the wall.”
This bunch was about to do some running, a not so frequent sight at a Bobby Petrino practice.
Petrino's philosophy has also been to get running in during practice – sprinting from one drill to the next – allowing the coaching staff to maximize practice time working directly with the players and installing schemes.
The apparent reason for this rare sight was fatigue. Players becoming fatigued was a somewhat common thing throughout the first week of fall camp. This was not so much a case of players reporting for camp not in proper physical shape, as the coaching has praised their off season conditioning frequently. With split practices, it meant potentially twice as many reps than a traditional practice and with less recovery time. It also pushed the players ability to be effective when tired to another level.
Because of the more challenging ACC schedule, Petrino, who urged his players to fight through the fatigue throughout the split practices, has stressed that his team must be able to excel late in games.
“I think the number one thing that we know in this conference is every team is going to have really good players, and every team is going to be very well coached,” Petrino said at the ACC Kickoff last month. “So most games are going to be won or lost in the fourth quarter, and we have to work our practices and everything we do that we can perform at a high level when we're tired.”
Following four days of tired legs, the players were showing signs of fatigue once again on Friday afternoon. While working on 11-on-11 situations, a block or two may have been missed and a few might not have been working at full speed, so Petrino finished with the familiar message, “fight through it,” and had the team doing multiple 40-yard runs.
“I think the coaches saw that some guys were getting tired and not getting it done, so they made us run,” a player said afterward.
While it has been difficult to get through at times, the opportunities to get in more reps and become better conditioned for late game situations has been welcomed by the players.
“It's definitely been a help,” said senior wide receiver Eli Rogers. “With conditioning and being able to learn everything, it has been a big help.”
The results of the split practices began surfacing as the full team worked together for the first time in camp on Saturday afternoon. The energy was high, the precision continued to improve, and the fatigue seemed to vanish. Petrino's ability to maximize, motivate and prepare helps separate him from many of his peers.
Fall camp will continue this week, with the team scheduled to scrimmage on Saturday afternoon at 3:00p.m. With the exception of the scrimmage, all practices are now closed to fans and media.