July 14, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
In the heat of a southern summer, grueling work goes on for Auburn's football players. Vacations and trips to the beach are for others.
With the start of preseason practice less than three weeks away, the men who will take on Washington State on Aug. 31 work in the weight room, in the indoor facility and on the practice field. When they're not dealing with the demands of strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell's program, they're having players-only practices.
In addition to lifting weights and running, players are late in the cycle of what Russell calls four-quarter agilities. It's a program that features drills designed for particular positions. And it is yet another stern test.
It started with what Russell six drills Russell calls plays in what he calls a quarter. In the final week of the summer program, that number will be up to 12 plays.
"That might not sound like a lot, but it's six seconds of all-out effort where they are sprinting, decelerating, changing directions and all those things," Russell said.
The work will go until the last week of July, when players will finally get a week off to rest and prepare for the start of preseason practice.
Not so long ago, college football summers were very different than they are today. Most players spent their summers at home.
"It used to the only reason anybody stayed was because they had to get eligible or they had just a terrible injury," said former All-Southeastern Conference defensive end Liston Eddins, who finished his career in 1975. "The big thing starting around April or May was trying to get as high a paying job as you could.
"Boys from Birmingham and Montgomery were always bragging about who they were going to work for and how much they were going to make."
Eddins, who came from the little north Florida town of Bratt, Fla., has had a first-hand look at the changing times in college football. Two of his sons played football at Auburn, Bret from 2000-2004 and Bart from 2006-2010.
"When I played, you cleared your room out of the dorm, put everything in your car or on your car and got out of there," said Eddins, a Montgomery realtor. "Right before July 4th
, you'd get a letter suggesting workouts you need to be doing. I imagine most guys probably looked at it and threw it away."
Neither of his sons spent a summer at home during their Auburn careers.
"They never even mentioned the possibility," Eddins said.
Not only have summers changed, but preseason practice has also changed dramatically. Into the 1990's, two-a-days almost every day was a staple of preseason practice. Rules now have all but eliminated two-a-days.
When most players went home during the summers, two-a-day practices were as much about conditioning as they were about preparation. Players who were part of former Auburn coach Pat Dye's teams in his early years talk about it still.
Chette Williams, Auburn's team chaplain, was there in 1981, Dye's first season.
"Probably, in my 42 years of living, it was the toughest times I've had," Williams said. "I saw guys give up, quit and leave. I wasn't going to quit, but I'd never been through anything that tough before. I think that pays off now for all of us who stuck it out."
Things hadn't changed much when Quentin Riggins arrived in 1986 to play linebacker. There were at least two practices every day, the first just as the sun was coming up. Some days there were as many as four. There was full contact in the mornings and the afternoons.
"You woke up in the middle of the night with cramps," said Riggins, the sideline reporter on Auburn football radio broadcasts. "No question, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Coach Dye had what he called 'perfect play.' Everybody on offense and defense had to be perfect. If they weren't, you did it over. If you messed up two or three times, he might start the whole practice over."
In those years, until school started there was no limit on the number of practices in a day and no limit on how long those practices could last.
Auburn team doctor Mike Goodlett does not mourn the passing of the test of manhood that was once August in college football.
"It gives you more recovery time, especially in intense heat like this," Goodlett said. "It gives you time to get the fluids back and to physically and mentally recover. I think we all rest a lot easier at night."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: