CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Larry Fedora prefers to not talk about the weather. It’s an element that his North Carolina Tar Heels cannot change, therefore it’s merely a matter of preparation.
Raining? Wear a slicker. Snowing? Bundle up. The weather has never been a talking point during Fedora’s tenure at UNC, so it’s only relevant when it actually becomes part of the story.
Thursday marked the 14th practice of training camp, and the 11th day since practice began on Aug. 5 to top 90 degrees. It’s been blazing hot at Navy Fields, with the heat index soaring past 100 on multiple days. During media interviews after practice, the index rose to 104.
"We don't talk about the weather here because there's nothing you can do about it, but I'm going to break the rule and say this has been the hottest, most humid training camp that we've had," senior left guard Caleb Peterson said.
Peterson has a right to complain. He lost 13 pounds during one practice session last week. Compounding the issue is the grind of training camp. The Tar Heels are currently in a six-day stretch that includes eight practices.
“There’s some days where it’s like, ‘okay, it’s a scorcher, let’s go,’” junior running back Elijah Hood said. “We’ve got to kick up our mind games a little bit more, but most of the time we’re not even bothered by the heat anymore… Running this no huddle in 100-degree weather, it gets pretty intense.”
Even the coaching staff mentioned the one thing they are not supposed to talk about.
“I know we don’t talk about the weather here, but that’s definitely added some adversity, which is good,” offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said. “And to the kids’ credit, they’ve worked hard through it. We haven’t heard anybody talk about it or complain about it, so that’s been positive.”
The heat is just another addition to the brutality of training camp. It’s the football version of boot camp, designed to test a young man’s mind and tax his body, while forcing each player to depend on their teammates in times of stress.
“The grind is real at this point,” Hood said. “Two weeks in, and we’ve been running into each other every day, sometimes two times a day. Guys are banged and bruised up. When your body’s hurting, and you’ve got this football play and you’ve got to remember what to do and how to execute it every day exactly the perfect way, guys can get lackadaisical or they get distracted by the physical pain…
“You’ve just got to do it. It’s basically up to you, your mindset, and overcoming your body with your mind at this point of camp. This is where champions are made.”
School start on Tuesday, therefore the camp construct is coming to an end. Hotel living is over, so the players will move back to their dorm rooms or their houses off campus and regain some sense of individuality during these final two weeks leading up to the season opener.
The team confinement aspect of camp makes it relatively easy to stay focused on the task at hand. It’s football from sun up to sun down. That’s about to change.
“Now you don’t have someone babysitting you, take you to the bus, take you here, so they’ve got to have outside responsibilities and take care of themselves,” Kapilovic said. “It’s the dog days of camp. You’re tired of hitting each other; you’re tired of the grind. This is where you see the mental toughness come through. You can see they guys that focus on all of the little details instead of just trying to get through it, and that’s what you’re really looking for here.”
Training camp offers the last opportunity before the games begin for the coaches to simulate adversity. The heat adds an extra layer to the mix, although it places a significant amount of stress on the training staff to ensure that the water is flowing and the players’ body temps are staying within the required guidelines.
Fedora, forever the optimist, corrected a reporter after Thursday’s practice when asked about his team sitting squarely in the middle of the most difficult stretch of camp.
“We’re on the back end of it now,” Fedora said. “We’ve got two [Friday], one Saturday and then two on Monday, so we’re on the back end of it. I want to see them push through. It’s mental now. It’s not the physical part of it, but it’s the mental part of it. Physically, they’re in great shape.
“Yeah, they’ve got bumps and bruises and all of those things, but the mental push here at the end is really important.”