Timeout Football 2012: For players and coaches, football never ends
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org August 15, 2012 10:02PM
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- Cover story: Football wives cope with being ‘single mothers’
- Cover story: Quit your job or quit football?
- Cover story: All of the work, none of the fame, scholarships
- Cover story: How far are you willing to go (literally) for your kids?
- Cover story: ‘There just wasn’t enough time’
- Football: Andrean season preview
- Football: Bishop Noll season preview
- Football: Calumet season preview
- Football: Chesterton season preview
- Football: Crown Point season preview
- Football: East Chicago Central season preview
- Football: Roosevelt season preview
- Football: Lew Wallace season preview
- Football: West Side season preview
- Football: Bowman season preview
- Football: Griffith season preview
- Football: Hammond season preview
- Football: Clark season preview
- Football: Gavit season preview
- Football: Morton season preview
- Football: Highland season preview
- Football: Hobart season preview
- Football: Kankakee Valley preview
- Football: Knox season preview
- Football: Lake Central season preview
- Football: Lake Station season preview
- Football: LaPorte season preview
- Football: Lowell season preview
- Football: Merrillville season preview
- Football: Michigan City season preview
- Football: Munster season preview
- Football: North Judson season preview
- Football: North Newton season preview
- Football: Portage season preview
- Football: Rensselaer season preview
- Football: River Forest season preview
- Football: South Central season preview
- Football: Boone Grove season preview
- Football: Valparaiso season preview
- Football: Wheeler season preview
- Football: Whiting season preview
Updated: August 17, 2012 6:18AM
Fifty-two days before Morton’s season opener against Griffith, Roy Richards’ alarm clock went off at some ungodly hour — was it 4 a.m.? 5? who can tell when the sun hasn’t even risen and your eyes haven’t even fully opened and your brain hasn’t even quit dreaming? — in the middle of what is laughably deemed his summer vacation.
Time for football practice.
Even for Richards — a football obsessive who probably goes to sleep counting sweeps — there occasionally comes a moment in which the utter preposterousness of the situation reaches a tipping point.
By the time his eyes finally adjusted and his brain finally switched on and the sun finally peeked over the horizon, it all sort of hit him at once: The idea that he’s getting paid nickels per hour to do this; the idea that he and his assistant coaches are bailing on their families to run tedious 7-on-7 drills for kids in helmets and shoulder pads; the idea that his players have to sacrifice their free time, their social lives and their jobs just because Cathedral and Roncalli are doing the same thing; and the truly twisted idea that Cathedral and Roncalli are only doing it because Morton and Bishop Dwenger are doing it.
And never mind the idea that it’s just too damn hot out there.
“I woke up and it was already 100 degrees out,” Richards says. “Third straight day. I just sat there, and for a moment, I asked myself, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
For a moment. That’s all. That’s all he had time for, really. Too much to do, too much to teach, too many players to wrangle together and wring the talent out of, too many opponents potentially working harder and working longer and working better than Morton.
It’s time for football. Always.
In the heat of June and July. In the dog days of two-a-days in August. In the fading twilight of fall weekday evenings. In the early morning hours of January. Richards is there — on the field or in the film room or in the weight room.
As are dozens of Morton students. As are most of Richards’ colleagues. As are thousands upon thousands of teenagers across the state of Indiana — football players, baseball players, basketball players, softball players, volleyball players, you name them, they’re out there.
Lifting weights. Running drills. Busting their butts morning, noon and night, all year round, for those few fleeting moments of glory under the lights.
This is high school athletics — football in particular — in the modern era.
For better or worse.
And there’s plenty of both.
‘Fun’ is relative
Here’s how a typical day in June went for Merrillville quarterback Jake Raspopovich. Up at 5:30 a.m. Football practice from 7 to 11:30 a.m. Basketball practice from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Football scrimmage from 5 to 7 p.m. Basketball game at 8 p.m. Basketball game at 9 p.m.
And that’s when he wasn’t in California for the Elite 11 quarterback camp or the Nike camp.
It’s little wonder why Raspopovich rejected overtures from the baseball coaching staff, who wanted him to come pitch for the Pirates.
“It’s kind of a lot, three sports,” he says.
Oh, and two isn’t?
But ask Raspopovich a simple question, and he’ll give you a simple — yet somewhat surprising — answer.
Why does he put himself through all this? When does he have time for, you know, fun?
“It is fun,” he says. “When I’m at practice, that is my fun.”
Sports are fun. Winning at sports is even more fun. Who knew?
That’s why he’s lifting weights before school in the winter. That’s why he’s sweating all summer long. That’s why all these kids do it — the ones like Raspopovich who are angling for Division I scholarships, and the guys at the end of the bench who put in just as much time for far less reward.
And that’s why Raspopovich spends the two IHSAA moratorium weeks — when he’s not allowed to have contact with his high school coaches — running his own practices with a few teammates.
“I’m always throwing,” he says. “I ain’t got time to waste. The season’s coming.”
It’s always football season
The season’s coming, he says. The football community scoffs.
Does it ever end?
Coaches, players and media alike treat the first day of two-a-day practices in late July or early August like it’s a national holiday. But it’s comical to consider it the “first day of practice.”
“The first day of football used to be the greatest day of the year,” says Portage coach Wally McCormack, back on the sidelines after a self-imposed one-year break from varsity coaching to reassess his desire to deal with it all. “Now it’s just another Monday. It sucks now. The adults are making it suck for the kids. I’d be perfectly happy if we locked the doors in June and July and opened them back up in August.”
That’s how it used to be. Not too long ago, actually. Before the summer of 2002, coaches could only work with a couple of players at a time throughout the summer — organized team activities were prohibited. But with AAU becoming an increasingly dominant presence in basketball, coaches, principals and the IHSAA decided to give high school coaches a fighting chance with their own kids.
“Our coaches believe they’re better for their kids than anyone else who can coach them,” said IHSAA assistant commissioner Robert Faulkens, a former player at South Bend LaSalle in the 1970s, a coach at Ben Davis in the 1990s and a principal at Crispus Attucks in the 2000s. “They figured, if kids are going to be working in the summer, they might as well be the ones working with them. They thought, ‘I have this kid’s best interests at heart. I know their mom, I know their little brother, I know their situation and I’m going to make sure they get the most out of this opportunity. When you don’t have contact in the summer, it lessens your ability to help them.”
The negative result of that decision is kids are spread thinner than ever. The positive result is that Indiana football is better than ever.
“There is much more emphasis on skill development now,” Faulkens says. “Kids know the game a lot better than we knew it, because coaches are more willing to take the time to share that information and share techniques. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but the coaches want Indiana football to be on par with the states around us — Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. And to be honest, it has worked out tremendously. Indiana football is much better than it was.”
Indeed, what made the Hobart teams of the 1980s and 90s so dominant was the extra time and effort they put into strength and conditioning — something few teams were doing back then.
Now, nearly every program is lifting year-round, doing conditioning in the spring and having full-blown “thud practices” — contact, but no taking players to the ground (wink, wink) — all summer long.
“Ask the old-timers, the (Bob) Schellingers and (Mark) Hoffmans and Brad Smiths — even (Fishers coach and former Merrillville coach) Rick Wimmer,” says current Merrillville coach Zac Wells. “Rick said it best. He told me recently, ‘We used to do a little more than others just to catch an edge. Now we do it because you have to, just to keep up with the Joneses.’ You’re overburdening your kids, and you’re doing it just to keep pace.”
The toll it takes on players and coaches and their families is obvious. But so are the rewards— better players, better football, better heat acclimatization, better team bonding and more scholarships. The heat of July pays off in the chill of November.
At least, that’s the hope. You know, so long as the kids aren’t completely burned out and exhausted by then.
“I don’t know if it does, I can’t say for sure,” Richards says. “I believe it does, though. And that’s the key. You have to get your kids to believe it will make a difference. When it’s 100 degrees out in June, and a kid’s outside and looks around and sees he’s the 35th best player out there, and he looks inside at the basketball players and sees he could be the eighth best player in there, he needs a reason to keep pushing himself. He needs to believe there’s a reason he’s doing all this.”
Coaches have their doubts sometimes. But players — who were 4 or 5 years old the last time summers were closed, who’ve never known anything different — are true believers. Otherwise, they’d be sleeping in and playing video games like everybody else.
“Oh, it pays off a lot,” says Morton lineman Alfredo Gutierrez. “We’re spending our summer scrimmaging against teams like Lake Central, Chesterton, Portage and Valparaiso. I learn a lot from them, and I gain experience and confidence playing against them. When it’s November and we’re playing for a regional or a semistate or possibly a state championship, that experience could be what puts us over the top.”
Change on the horizon
Does it have to be this way? Probably. To some extent, at least. Indiana is unlikely to go the way of Texas and have full-time head football coaches — whose only other responsibility is to supervise the fieldhouse during the day — but the genie’s out of the bottle. Summers will always be open, football and all these other sports will always be year-round activities.
But it might ease up. Just a bit.
“The pendulum swung all the way in that direction 10 years ago,” Faulkens says. “But it’s going to swing back.”
It already is. Wells, for one, only held three practices in July and gave his Merrillville players the rest of the month off to recuperate and to go on family vacations and to get summer jobs and to, well, to just be kids. The Indiana Football Coaches Association is kicking around proposals to begin scaling back summer practice time a bit. The National Federation of High Schools is considering a proposal to mandate a day off after a two-a-day practice, like the National Football League does.
“We can make things more reasonable,” Wells says.
Of course, the definition of “reasonable” lies at the heart of the debate. Is it reasonable for kids to be lifting or practicing or playing from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.? Is it reasonable for coaches to work seven days a week — for upwards of 80 hours a week — during the season for an extra four or five grand? Is it reasonable to have middle school camps and high school camps and 7-on-7 camps and all manner of practices disguised as “special events”?
Is it reasonable for sports to be a full-time job for teenagers and adults alike?
“It’s crazy,” says Dave Coyle, who took over as Valparaiso’s head coach after two decades as an assistant under Mark Hoffman. “I had no idea it would be this much. You go to bed at night and you take that big, deep sigh and think, ‘I got everything done.’ Then you wake up and your heart’s racing because of all the things you have to do that day. It just does not stop. Ever.”
Is that reasonable? Justified? Worth it?
Those who spend all those countless hours in the weight room, on the field, in the film room — they think so.
Why else would they do it? And why else would they love it so much?
“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” Richards says. “But it’s such an incredible privilege to do what we do, for me and for the kids. I remember our postseason banquet last year, watching the highlights, seeing the parents cry, realizing how these kids would have these amazing memories and these incredible stories to tell for the rest of their lives. When you see that, when you see those tears in their eyes, when you see what they accomplished, when you see that pride — you know it’s worth it. It’s worth every second of it.”