A couple weeks ago Strength and
Conditioning Coach Mike Golden asked Ellerbe and me if we would like to
go through preseason training with this year’s team. He knows we
talk a lot about the program, and felt if we had an “inside”
perspective we might be able to let fans know just what is going on in
the Murphy Center this summer.
“We” (Ellerbe and I) turned into "I". Many friends and listeners
began to question my sanity. After all, why would a guy like me
have any business being on a field with true athletes? Although I
am getting closer and closer to middle age, and am not the physical
specimen I used to be, hell, whom am I kidding?? I am severely out of
shape, but I felt this was an opportunity I could not pass up. I
guess that’s the point, not only did I have a once-in-lifetime chance
to be on the team for a day…. but it was a chance to see if I could
complete the two-hour workout without quitting, and prove to myself and
others that maybe, just maybe, I still had it!
Well, let me first say this was no "fantasy camp", nor was it some type
of "walk-through". This was the real deal. When they lifted, I
lifted (maybe not as much weight), when they ran, I ran (maybe not as
fast). If it happened to the team, it happened to me.
The workout…or shall I say "death march" began at 2 p.m. sharp on
Thursday, July 14, 2005. The team assembled in the lobby of the Murphy
Center. Just to be safe I got there early! The training session
lasted two hours. I began to make friends with some of our special
players who clued me in on what was about to happen. Oh well, too late
to turn back now.
We sprint through the stadium and then its hurdles, and back to the
Murphy center. I became winded and realized this was only the
warm-up…uh-oh. This ain't lookin' so good.
We then hit the field turf in the Murphy Center for sit-ups and
calisthenics. Sounds easy, but after a mouth full of field turf
pellets, I can assure you this also takes a toll.
We then break up into groups for strength training. Somehow I get put
with the linemen. I thought it would be good to hang with these guys
for the running/agility session. I might be able to keep up with them,
but that is a long way away. First, it’s lifting. The squats I could
only do with the help of my "teammates". Thank goodness they where
there to spot me. ECU lineman Josh Coffman was becoming a good
friend at this point.
The worse thing about it all was no one, and I mean no, one can rest,
and when I say rest, I mean you can't even bend over. Don't even think
about takin' a knee. You have to stand straight the whole time no
matter how exhausted you are. That sounds easy, but that became the
toughest part. I began to wonder how I could start to just "blend in"
so they did not notice me. The team is in their gray shirts and I stand
out like a neon sign with my white Pirate Radio 1250 T-shirt.
I begin to feel light headed and wonder why I ate lunch earlier. I saw
Coach Shank earlier and he showed me where the big yellow trash can was
if I needed it. He said I would not be the first to use it, and
asked me to make sure I hit it and not the floor, if necessary. I
started thinking of that trash can. Then someone said I looked
more pale than normal. I looked at the clock and we had only been at it
20 minutes…oh boy… this might have been a big mistake!
About that time some of the players begin to rally and encourage me to
keep it up. We were lifting in a circuit style. I began to get my
second wind, and felt I couldn’t let these guys or myself down by
quitting. At this point the team begins to take me on as their
"project" and they want me to make it all the way with them.
Finally the weight training comes to end. one hour of lifting, no
breaks! Not one! Now it's time to do the running. We leave the
Murphy Center and it is the hottest humidity I have ever felt. It
had just rained and it felt like a 100-degree steam bath. Is there no
mercy!?? I follow my "teammates" to the locker room. They tell me
to grab some water and enjoy the ten-minute break before the running
drills. The guys let me borrow some cleats so I don’t slip on the
grass; "very nice", I thought. I rest on the couch in the locker room
and then it's time to go. My legs don't move so quickly and my arms
feel like Jello.
We break up into groups to do the agility drills, but first more
warm-ups. Man, these warm-ups are killin' me! I’m at a full sprint just
to keep up. I forget to touch the line so I have to do the drill
again! I'm with the linemen, and I am struggling to keep up with
guys that weigh twice as much as I do. The guys are really supportive
now, because if I don't do it right, they might have to do it
again…man, this is pressure!
I look over towards the east and I see dark clouds. I think, God
please let it storm, but then I find out, if it rains, we go nowhere
until we are done. Damn, so much for an intervention from a higher
power! But the weather does turn weird. The wind picks up out of
nowhere, the sky turns dark, and it starts to pour rain. Coach
Golden yells “this is spirit of Blackbeard, baby!!!!” The team
goes nuts, and guys are fired up! This was the most beautiful
rain I have ever seen, and the temperature drops twenty degrees.
Towards the end, the guys begin to hoot and holler. Dare I say
this was becoming fun? We kept huddling up and yelling different
chants. These guys were pumped up!!! Richard Koonce ended the practice
as we all huddled together and began an ECU chant that you would have
thought was started by the cheerleading squad. These guys have some
And then, it was over. Much to the amazement of the coaches,
players, and myself, I actually made it. I made it through the
two-hour ordeal without quitting! Even ECU Hall of Famer, and
Bowl Champion, George Koonce told me he would not want to go through
that type of practice again… especially at our age!
Two days later, Allen Thomas comments to me that I am walking like Fred
Sanford from the Sanford and Son
TV show. Sure, it has taken me a
few days to get back to “normal”, but I will always remember how hard
our players worked in the summer of 2005.
I can’t tell you how many wins we will have this season, but from what
I witnessed, these guys are doing what it takes to turn this program
around. And believe me, I am not saying this as somebody that
heard about them, or watched them work. I lived it with
them. I had a lot of respect for them before; now I have even
more. The seeds that are being planted in the dog days of summer
will pay off big in the fall!