After a semi-leisurely June, that coaches and players and anyone affiliated with Ole Miss football use to recharge their batteries, things rev up in July after the Independence Day break.
Coaches kick things into another gear, player workouts get more intense, fans start to get antsy, and writers start looking for different angles.
While July is still not a full bore month, it's the next best thing. After the miserably slow time between spring training and recruiting and August practice, where the highlights are a few camps and a load of speculation, the month of July signals light at the end of the tunnel as we await our favorite activity - Rebel football.
We'll gradually get more and more access to the players to give you some updates on their offseason progress, the coaches will be planning for practices and games, and Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker's staff will be preparing the team to peak, conditioning wise, when they report in early August for the long haul of the season.
July is a month of anticipation, preparation, organization and the renewed hope that our team's dreams will be fulfilled.
All of those things are important to the final outcome. Once August rolls around, it's too late to get in a little better shape or drastically change directions or make up for any stone unturned organizationally.
When August rolls up on us, which will be as quick as you can pump a penny of gas, most of the hay has to be in the barn.
From there, it's a four or five month sprint to the finish line. He who hesitates will be left behind.
If May and June are a waltz, July is a line dance and August through early December is the headbanger's ball.
There's a rhythm to everything, but once August gets here it's more Tommy Lee than Gene Krupa. It's more Axl Rose than Frank Sinatra. It's more Jimmy Page than Les Paul.
The beat gets louder, faster and more frenetic.
Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt, his staff and the veteran players understand the notes. They understand football is a rock ballad, like Free Bird or Stairway To Heaven, that starts slowly and builds to a crescendo.
They also understand the slow verses are now gone and it's time to hit some heavy riffs on the guitar.
For the players' part, Decker is going to ramp things up in the conditioning area. They'll still lift weights and continue to try to gain strength, but there will be more emphasis on endurance and being in shape. Nutt and Decker are proponents of being in shape when August practice begins rather than working yourself into good condition via August practices. A well-conditioned athlete has more mental capacity and can absorb and retain instruction better. A fatigued athlete not only gives out physically, they give up mentally.
For the coaches, July will be a month chock full of activity. There will be a couple of speaking engagements for Houston, an important prospect camp, a not-so-important fantasy camp (just kidding fantasy campers), the Ladies' Football Forum, and hours and hours of planning for August and beyond.
It's said that Houston puts a sign up in the coaches' locker room about this time every year: "Put your golf clubs and fishing poles up. It's Football Time!" That's probably been the case the past eight or 10 years for these guys when they were at Arkansas because they were settled and knew the landscape, but this summer – their first at Ole Miss – there hasn't been a lot of leisure time.
Some coaches are still getting their families moved and some are finishing up on homes they are building in Oxford. Some have put in extra hours in June to keep learning the lay of the land and the ins and outs of being Rebel coaches.
As Nutt told me recently, "We'll take a vacation next year. This year, we have to get this program turned around."
I hate speaking for the fans, but I get a pretty good gauge via my job of the pulse of the Rebel supporters. Most are very excited about the 2008 season, but not without some reality, trepidation and humility mixed in. Four losing seasons in a row will dampen any fire and that's what we've had.
Nutt will have just as much of a psyche job to do with our fans as he will with our team. Some fans will sit on that proverbial fence until Houston and Company push them off.
As for the Spirit staff, we're ready to roll. Hopefully, player interviews will be forthcoming in the next week or so as we also gear up for the season. After July 4th is what we, professionally, live for.
It's always an exciting time when we get the opportunity to get to know our coaches and players better so we can relay to you pertinent info about the team. As we've said many times, it's a labor of love with which we feel quite fortunate to be involved in.
Yes, hump day means each and every Wednesday for most working Americans. For those involved in Rebel football, hump day just comes once a year. . .
. . . after the July 4th holiday.
From here on out, it's all downhill, or uphill, depending on your perspective.
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