Last month, here at Your Best 11, we talked about what the offseason is like for college football coaches. Between their glad-handing obligations, recruiting and hoping kids avoid trouble, the guys running your programs have a lot on their plates.
For the players, things are no different. Instead of the media obligations, the players are tasked with getting better, dodging those same pitfalls their coaches are hoping they avoid and, yes, trying to squeeze some fun into it all.
As spring ball slowly wraps up through April, for most teams, that transition coincides with the semester coming to an end. Players put in some more workouts, and they have their post-spring exit interviews, talk about their futures with their position coaches and then get ready for exams to close things out.
While players work out after spring, the official start to the offseason comes with summer school. As college football has grown into the big business in which million-dollar deals are dependent upon the performance of 17- to 23-year-olds, summer school has become a non-negotiable.
Sure, some guys take internships and work out on their own in an effort to further their careers or their studies. However, the bulk of those kids from BCS, non-BCS, FBS and FCS schools are on campus, in summer school, getting after it to get better.
The classroom is a given. Guys get degree progress for the summer, and it stops them from having to load up during the fall and spring. If you don't pass, you don't play. We have seen more than one player enter spring on shaky ground, only to fall by the wayside.
Another big benefit of class, outside of degree progress, is the way it helps set up a player's schedule. We've talked about it during spring ball at Your Best 11, and summer is no different. While the day has more free time involved, the regimented nature of the football world still exists in a very strong capacity.
For players who like their classes early, you get up and go to class and then your conditioning and lifting can take place after. Other players prefer to get the football work out of the way, and then head to class as the summer's sun heats things up.
Regardless of your preference, you're going to get your work in during the summer, just like coaches get work out of the players any other time of the year.
And that work, for the players, is the offseason's biggest mental and physical hurdle. Winter conditioning is a bear, but summer is when they look to break you. Summer is when the sun is high in the sky, shirts are off, lungs are burning, sweat is pouring and the Strength and Conditioning staff is pushing to get more out of the kids.
That push comes from the inside and the outside. Inside the facilities, players are hitting the weights—hard. Pushing the plates, moving the bars and working to add muscle to their frames in hot months. Outside, on the field, the players' mindsets are about survival.
Surviving the early runs. Surviving the heat. Surviving the 110s, 300s and the shuttles that S&C coaches put you through in an effort to maximize what they get out of your body. Building mental toughness is an ongoing process, and the offseason is about getting ready for fall camp and the noon kickoffs in September.
However, conditioning, for players, is about more than just getting better. In light of so many of the recent events, safety is something that is very real for players. No one expects a serious injury to happen to them, but every player knows that it is a very real possibility. There's a reason trainers are out watching with cautious eyes as team runs take place.
Throw in the element of teammates going down during runs, or players being pulled because of ailments, and the concern is palpable. While different players handle it all differently, the point in recognizing the danger is not in choosing to block it out. Rather, it is in balancing the concern with the push to get better, and recognizing the dangerous warning signs as they present themselves.
Another element that, like the blanket summer-school policy, has revved up as the importance of football has grown is the pass skeleton, or seven-on-seven. We have seen players get lauded as tremendous leaders for organizing pass skel during the offseason. Rich Rodriguez got hammered for going above and beyond to make sure his guys were going to skel.
The reality of the situation is that everyone does pass skel. Everyone. Heisman winners get pass skel setup. Guys who are just hoping to climb the depth chart set up pass skel. Quarterbacks in a three-way battle to start set up pass skel together. Defensive players set up pass skel.
In other words, being in charge of pass skel does not mean nearly as much as folks want to try and tell you that it does. It has to be done and someone has to set it up. Those footballs don't carry or throw themselves.
Some players use pass skel to grow their relationships with their teammates. There are receivers and quarterbacks getting on the same page. On the opposite side of the ball, linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks are all trying to understand where they fit in the grand scheme of a defensive concept. Young players go into the situation with the goal of learning the scheme prior to getting to fall camp.
Where football is concerned, the players get through their lifting, running and pass skel, and then you have a roster full of guys with some extra time on their hands for a change. Here is where trouble and fun often collide for the collegiate athlete.
Summertime, on a college campus, especially in the college towns that make up the bulk of the college football world, is a remarkable experience. Most of the students are gone, there are bars and clubs looking for any reason to stay open and pools to have parties at. The weather is prime for enjoying time outdoors.
Throw together some idle hands, a pool or a bar and a little alcohol and there is certainly fun to be had.
There is also trouble to be made. Fights, drinking citations, drinking and driving offenses, drug arrests and the like have been stories during the offseason. As we saw a year ago with Sammy Watkins, folks like to lump the arrests into one amorphous trend, when the fact is individual players perpetrate the acts.
The arrests are a lot more about one guy making a mistake than college players as a whole. One player in the South gets into a fight with a regular student and beats him up. Another guy in the Midwest gets popped for underage drinking. Someone else in the Southwest decides to drink and drive. Yet, somehow, each of these players gets lumped into some grand cause.
That said, staying out of trouble is on the minds of players heading into the offseason. Coaches drill it into them as they get ready to start the period of little contact between staff and player. Strength coaches punish players who they find out are towing the line. Guys who miss lift or show up to run drunk end up getting well-acquainted with the stadium steps and carrying cement bags.
While people in the media worry about perception, the players' minds are set squarely on the goal in front of them: not getting the beatdown that comes with messing up. And, for most guys, that combination of avoiding the beatdown and staying out of trouble is enough.
Even through the working out, the running and avoiding the trouble, there is fun to be had. Off the field, guys really get to know their teammates. After all, when there are so few people on campus, you tend to spend more time with the team, out of necessity. Pool parties. Cookouts. Trips to the beach or the lake. Golf outings. Fishing.
Winter workouts and summer conditioning help build that camaraderie on the field, but summer goes a long way towards building legitimate friendships within the team dynamic. When the foot comes off the gas a bit, players get to know each other better, and building that element helps teams take that next step. Not just knowing you can count on someone in the weight room or on the field, but also liking the guy who has the locker next to you.
As is the case with the bulk of the college football calendar, summer is for getting better. The offseason kicks off after spring, and players are running to make their times in fall camp and lifting to keep the weight on. They're also looking to stay out of trouble, as the time spent away from the game grows rather lengthy.
Keeping away from trouble, keeping themselves healthy, and getting better are what that offseason mindset is all about. And the guys still find time for a little fun, if they're lucky.