Leach's sand pit is more than meets the eye

SPRING PRACTICES at Washington State commence in 21 days and one new face on the field will be sand. Lots of sand. Construction of a 40-yard-by-10-yard sand pit like the one Mike Leach installed at Texas Tech is taking shape in a corner of Rogers Field. There are several purposes for the "Leach Beach," an unconventional training tool indeed.

The primary one is low-impact strengthening of the ankles and knees, especially for receivers who will be in constant motion in the Air Raid offense. Along the way, look for an an uptick in quickness and explosiveness.

But there's also a secondary purpose to the pit, and a tertiary one too.

After fitness, mental toughness is one of the pit's biggest benefits. Running in sand is difficult enough, but doing cone drills, burpees, backpedals, resistance training, et. al. in the beach is another story altogether.

A Texas Tech offensive lineman, rejoicing in the elimination of the sand pit after Mike Leach's departure from the program, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal it was it "deadly," and that a round of standing broad jumps in the sand turned his legs to Jell-O.

Beyond fitness and mental toughness, there's a third reason for the pit: Punishment for a late arrival, a missed class, lack of hustle, or other miscue.

"I think it was about equal," Tech linebacker Julius Howard once said when asked about the pit's split between training and punishment. "We worked on it during the summer for skills, but during the season it was punishment. We had to roll in it …," he told the Avalanche-Journal. In the same story, center Justin Keown said, "There's not words to describe how bad I hated it."

Rolling in the sand isn't the only way to send a message. In his book Swing Your Sword, Leach recounts how some of his players got into a fight in town. So he had them report to the training room at 7 a.m. to get their hands taped. They then put on boxing gloves and headed out to the pit for sparring with tackling dummies (followed by a shadow boxing run around campus).

THE LEACH BEACH ROSE TO national prominence in late 2005, not long after it was constructed, when the New York Times Magazine ran a nearly 9,000-word story by Michael Lewis called Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep.

In it, Lewis wrote: "All (Tech receivers) have been conditioned to run much more than a football player normally does. A typical N.F.L. receiver in training might run 1,500 yards of sprints a day; Texas Tech receivers run 2,500 yards. To prepare his receivers' ankles and knees for the unusual punishment of his nonstop-running offense, Leach has installed a 40-yard-long sand pit on his practice field; slogging through the sand, he says, strengthens the receivers' joints. And when they finish sprinting, they move to Leach's tennis-ball bazookas. A year of catching tiny fuzzy balls fired at their chests at 60 m.p.h. has turned many young men who got to Texas Tech with hands of stone into glue-fingered receivers."

Rogers Field this week offers tangible evidence that the final pieces of the Leach Era are coming into place -- one grain at a time.

For a range of new photos capturing the state of construction in and around Martin Stadium, click HERE.

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