Kickers aren’t just kicking back
THESE are the times that try men's souls. It's hot. Everyone walks with a slight limp. Practices are long and some days there's another in the afternoon too, back to back. This is life in training camp, a little more than a week in.
"I think Saturday, right now, I really felt it," Hawaii receiver Ryan Grice-Mullins says, "like I felt the fatigue in my legs."
Even a skill-position stud like Grice-Mullins, if he isn't hitting the wall, can see it from here. All the little injuries pile on top of one another. Every drill is a daze. They push through it, they work hard. But it's training camp. It's long. It's unrelenting. It's hot. It hits them all.
"I think your legs just start to die down," Grice-Mullins says. "I think today I really felt my legs dying down."
And there, in the distance, out of this desert, a mirage:
"Look at those kickers over there!" Grice-Mullins says. "They ain't doing nothing, they're over there playing soccer and just kicking the (soccer) ball. They just practice for about 5 minutes and take their shoulder pads off and just walk around and play around all day."
And they sign autographs for the small kids they're playing soccer with, over on the other field.
"Hopefully nobody really saw that," punter Kurt Milne says sheepishly.
Well, you know ...
"We've got to find things to keep ourselves busy, especially during these 3-hour practices," he says.
This is training camp?
"Actually," UH kicker Dan Kelly says, "yesterday, Kenny Patton, one of the DBs, said something that I thought was kind of interesting. He said, 'In a game of hitting, kickers are playing golf.'
"Which is very true," Kelly says. "We're very technical. We work very hard on our technique, our tactical aspect. But I mean, we are golfers. We don't do hitting. That's not in our contract. Kicking is a very technical thing. So even though it doesn't look like we're sweating, our minds are doing the sweating."
It doesn't look like I'm working, but, you know, mentally ... Remind me to try that line on my boss.
But Kelly isn't kidding. For an 8:30 practice he's out there sometimes just after 7 a.m. Working. He has a precise, serious routine. A long warm-up, then working on whatever he needs to accomplish for that day. Hones his "swing" until it feels just right. Perfect. Easy. Then, time to shut it down.
He does what he needs to do, then pau. Not one kick more.
"If I feel like I've gotten everything done I'll kind of cool down, take off my pads and wait until period 26, when we do field goals," he says.
It sounds like a joke, but kickers have to be careful not to overdo it during practice.
Every hacker knows how easy it is to get his golf swing screwed up.
Kickers do what they do to keep that swing fine-tuned and then they quit while they're ahead.
"You can get tired, pick up bad habits," Milne says.
"They wouldn't expect these linebackers to be hitting the holes and filling the holes and hitting running backs all day long. Your body wouldn't be able to take it. The same thing with your leg," Kelly says.
He knows. As a freshman, he did too much, and it messed him up for the rest of the year, he says.
It's a delicate thing, kicking a football, and a good kicker knows what he needs to do to make that ball do what he wants.
That's true. But you wonder how it plays in Peoria when the kickers are spotted standing around for much of the day during the most grueling practices of the year.
These guys know precisely what their bodies need to do to be ready. But then, no other players get to tell their coaches that they know how much training-camp work their bodies need in order to be ready.
("I know I'm speaking for the entire platoon when I say this run should be postponed until this platoon is better rested.")
Between two-a-day practices, many guys are dying, trying to conserve energy, wondering how they're going to make it through the rest of the day.
"We're pretty much fine," Milne says. "We actually try to get in a lift. You know, work out, run a little bit."
Uh huh. Meanwhile, Grice-Mullins is so tired, "Sometimes I would be like, I wish I was a kicker!"
Don't worry. He doesn't really. That was just a momentary heat-stroke joke.
And yes, sometimes there is a little kidding. In a light-hearted manner, of course. A little.
Kelly is ready: "One of the linemen comes up to you: 'I hope you guys are having your fun.' I'm like, 'Hey man, read your contract. It's in our contract. We did what we need to do.' "
Everyone knows his is serious business, and he's taking care of it, working hard, doing what he needs to do. Still, he says, "The guys get after you, you just have to think of some kind of smart comment to come back with."
Luckily, he has lots of free time to come up with those.
See how easy it is for the uninformed to take shots? But no, the guys on the team get it, Kelly says. They respect what he does. Everyone knows he's working, not slacking. He's a craftsman. He's focused on the goal, getting ready for the season.
It is training camp, after all.
"You've got to pace yourself," Kelly says.