Learning Curve

Freshmen and newcomers to college football camps have a lot to learn, but there's no coddling them, according to WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen.

The structure of college football preparation, just like the game itself, has changed a lot over the years. The effects of those changes have impacted the readiness of freshmen and newcomers to contribute, and perhaps made things a little easier, despite the fast-paced nature of the teaching process.

Thirty years ago, all of the freshmen and other newcomers reported to fall camp with the veterans at the same time. That left coaches two choices: Slow down the teaching process to bring the new players into the mix, or use veterans to help the newbies get the hang of things. Both choices presented problems, and affected the development of portions of the team.

Modifications to the structure of fall practice by the NCAA then made acclimatization of the freshmen a bit easier, as a rule was put in place allowing three days of work for freshmen only. That let them ease into the college game, but it also meant that the coaches were burning three practice sessions on a small group of players, only a handful of whom were likely to contribute. Without a doubt, coaches want to work with the entire team, not just a subset, so while the intent of the rule was to help freshman orientation, it didn't really do the job.

With the gradual move toward year-round conditioning and player-organized workouts, however, came a new rule. Incoming recruits were allowed to enroll in summer classes and begin working with their older teammates on campus. While coaches aren't allowed to participate in those sessions, the rookies have the chance to learn about many of the drills and practice sessions they will see in the fall. That move was the key, at least in Dana Holgorsen's mind, to setting the current structure of fall camp.

"It's incredibly important during the summer when we're not here," he emphasized. "Having older guys that know what's going on, [and] get them to where they know what's going on in the first practice. Those guys have been there, done that and those younger guys look up to them.

"There are 25-30 new guys out there, so they need to look up to the older guys and follow them. It's obviously part of the transition," he continued. "You get these guys in here during the summer. It used to be that you would have three practices with the freshmen and you taught them, but because we can bring them in the summer on scholarship, it eases that transition."

So, for Holgorsen, there's no slowing down the pace of practice or an effort to bring the new guys along slowly. He reiterated that on day one of fall camp, the pace was the same as it was at the end of last season -- that the rookies were now in the position of having to sink or swim on their own. That's one of the tests, in his view, in determining who is ready to play and who isn't.

Of course, Holgorsen himself might be viewed as something of a newcomer, what with the fact that he's in just his second year as a head coach. However, his experience at several different schools gave him the idea of what he wanted to do when he took over the West Virginia job in 2011, and he made only minor tweaks to the overall plan of fall camp this year. Clearly, he's comfortable with what he's doing.

"We were happy with the structure of things last year; the structure and how we did things. We didn't change a whole lot. I have some notes on how we did things that we wanted to change, but we had a pretty good plan of how we wanted to do camp last year, and how we wanted to approach the season. We didn't change too many things from last year from a schedule and structure standpoint. That's all pretty much the same."

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