The Hearts of Champions

It is not unusual for me to go over to Mississippi State two or three times a week to watch the football players go through their normal morning weight-lifting or afternoon running and conditioning workouts.

In the afternoon, the players work out in three groups. The first group, which starts at 3:30 and goes to 4:30, is primarily the linemen - offensive and defensive. The second group goes from 4:30 to 5:30 and consists of the offensive skill players, while the third group - the defensive skill players - follows them at 5:30 to 6:30.

I watch the players work out, but really have never understood what was going through their minds. Yesterday was different. Yesterday, I sat beside MSU senior tight end Donald Lee while the defensive players were going through their workout. Donald, who had just gotten through working out with the second group and was still tired from the workout, explained exactly what was going through the minds of the players near the end of the workout.

The routine is pretty much the same as I have seen before. There are four separate stations that the players have to go through during the one hour workout. The players divide into four groups and go to different stations. During the one hour period, they will rotate from station to station. The running exercises at each stations all have to do with developing foot quickness in one form or the other. I'm not real sure about the technical aspect of each exercise, so I won't attempt to explain them. What I do know is there is very little time to rest between the running exercises and it is always hot. In other words, while the players are working on their foot quickness, they are also developing their wind (stamina if you prefer) and building up their endurance to the humid, Mississippi heat. Trust me folks, it is a tough, tough one hour drill.

As the players go through the various stations, you can tell that their stamina and endurance are slowly starting to wear down, but they continue to work as hard as they possibly can. Sure, some of them may not run what you would consider an all out sprint on every run, but they are running as hard as their minds and bodies will allow.

At the end of the station workouts, the players have to run four sprints, two 220's and two 110's. Now, folks, this is without a doubt the most difficult part of the entire workout. Until yesterday, I really didn't know how difficult it was. Donald Lee explained it to me.

While I didn't record Donald Lee talking about what was going through his mind and the minds of the other players during this part of the workout, I will write down as much as I can remember.

First, the players are fairly wore out from running through the station exercises. The exercises were almost non-stop except for water breaks. And remember, earlier in the morning the players had worked out with weights, so their bodies were already a little tired before they had even set foot on the field.

On the first run the players, seemingly, are fresh and are even competing against each other to see if they can win the race or at least place well. The problem is, while running, the earlier exercises start affecting their bodies. They start feeling burning sensations in their legs and their stamina has started to give out.

They finish the first leg of the four-leg race. Now, some of them are really feeling exhaustion start to take over. Guys start leaning over with their hands on their knees. A few of the guys are even squatting down trying to rest as much as they can while the next group catches up to them. The new guys (new signees and walk-ons), one or two of whom had even won the first leg of the race, start showing the effects more than the veterans on the next leg of the race. After finishing in first place the first leg of the race, Darren Williams now ran in the middle of the pack on the second leg. He is still showing great effort, but his body, according to Donald, is feeling what is like a monkey on his back. Most of the other new guys are running in the rear of the pack. This isn't like what they experienced in high school. The veterans are feeling the same monkey but have been through this before and know what to expect. However, that still doesn't make it any easier. The second leg is now behind them, but the third leg is still ahead.

At the end of the third leg, the players' bodies are now almost totally exhausted. Almost all of them are now feeling a little dizzy and some are even seeing black dots. Donald said he is so tired at this time that he can only mentally focus on the player in front of him. Where he runs, Donald goes. He said this is the time in the race when your mind starts wondering if football is really worth it. However, the players answered this question with their actions. Of all the players in this group (skilled defensive players), only two can't run the fourth leg. One's leg cramps up and another one just can't go any more. His body and mind won't let him. Exhaustion has taken total control of his body and mind. Now, with the fourth leg looming, and with almost total exhaustion now covering their entire bodies, the players run with every ounce of their being. Not only have their minds taken over, but their hearts as well. Players that have become leaders are running at the front of the line, players such as Mario Haggan, Korey Banks and Josh Morgan. You always hear about the heart of a team. Well, that is what these senior leaders truly are.

As Donald told me, he knew they were hurting, but they knew, as seniors, they had to be the leaders. They couldn't let their bodies show exhaustion, so they let their minds and hearts take over for their exhausted bodies. That set an example for all the other players to follow and the players did.

It is days like yesterday that help build a winner. Yesterday was a day when our players started developing the hearts of champions.

So, the next time you let it creep into your mind that our players don't have the heart or will to win, remember that day in July when the exhausted bodies of our football players, running in 90+ heat, finished a race because they had the minds and hearts to do so.

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is You can contact him by emailing

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