MCGILL: Herd Knocks -- Behind the Scenes of Camp's Start
The Word on the Herd -- August 10, 2016
By Chuck McGill
The television show Hard Knocks, an HBO and NFL Films reality documentary series, is in its 12th season. It is a show that follows professional football players, coaches and front office personnel through the journey of preseason training camp.
The Marshall Thundering Herd football program began its own preseason camp grind Sunday morning, a day before the team tossed on the Kelly green and white practice gear and took the field for a morning and late afternoon session at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. They were the first practices of a two-week stretch that will culminate with a scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 20, three weeks from the Sept. 10 opener against Morgan State.
But, in reality, the preparation for these critical weeks began months ago, and there is far more to camp than showing up on time and practicing hard. I'll bring you behind the scenes here with HerdZone.com's Word on the Herd, and we'll add to my stories and insight with video over the next two weeks to give you an exclusive look at how one of college football's most successful programs gets ready for the rigors of a 12-game season.
This is Marshall's version of HBO's popular preseason feature. Yes, welcome to HERD Knocks.
It was early Sunday morning when I made my way from my Henderson Center office to the Shewey Building, where there was a flurry of activity 24 hours before the start of camp. Coaches were hustling and bustling around the offices on the main level, while 100-plus players made their way to the football team room downstairs. Inside, athletic department personnel lined the walls as seventh-year head coach Doc Holliday addressed the team.
Among the lineup of speakers: Tim Pike, the head athletic trainer; Bill Timpano, the assistant compliance director; Jason Corriher, assistant athletic director for media relations; and Lisa Williamson, director of academic counseling.
Pike delivered information on concussions, a hot-button topic on all levels of football. Timpano took student-athletes on a tour of reminders regarding dos and don'ts -- mostly don'ts -- that could jeopardize their eligibility and harm the football program. Corriher focused his attention on social media conduct, flipping through slide after slide of athletes -- amateur and professional -- who'd misstepped on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Corriher also reviewed postgame and game-week media protocol, including tips on how to handle media questions.
It was the official kickoff meeting of the 2016 football season, and was part of nearly a 15-hour day that included moving into housing, physicals and a domestic violence presentation.
I spoke with Mark Gale, Marshall's assistant athletic director for football operations, about Sunday's lengthy day of preparation and Monday's on-field debut. Gale is in charge of the ins and outs of the football program, from academics to per diem to travel accommodations. There isn't much that transpires inside the Shewey Building that doesn't have Gale's fingerprints on it.
"It includes everything down to setting a schedule and making sure that not only do we have the Joan reserved, but we've got to have the Chris Cline Indoor Athletic Facility reserved in case of inclement weather," Gale said. "That's something that's got to be turned into our facilities crew within our athletic department to make sure we've got everything covered there.
"I've got to make sure we've got places reserved to eat because you're talking about feeding 105-plus players and a staff. You get a staff for equipment, you get a staff of trainers, you get a staff for video, you get a strength staff and you have a coaching staff with support staff.
"We put together the menus for the players and there are a couple Sunday mornings that we're going to let them sleep in before we go to church.
"There is also things like NFL teams coming to visit. The (Detroit) Lions and (New Orleans) Saints were just here. The (Carolina) Panthers are coming Wednesday. The Lions are coming again Thursday. So I want to make sure I allot enough time in my day to answer their questions and get them with (strength coach) Luke Day so he can answer any questions they may have.
"It's about getting everybody pointed in the right direction."
Gale lauded the emphasis Sunday's speakers put on social media conduct and handling the media.
"In this day and age of social media and how to deal with media ... we want our young men to be respectful and we want them to understand the media has a job to do, but don't fall into a trap," Gale said. "If it's a yes or no question, answer it yes or no. Again, with social media and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and whatever else is out there, people are out there waiting to find something."
Gale said that, in a lot of ways, this is the most critical stretch of the year.
"You talk about all the installation going on with offense, defense and special teams," he said. "Once you kind of get to see how they handle the grind. We had winter, we had spring, we had summer and this is the fourth quarter. All of the hard work that has gone on from January until now, it's kind of like a recipe. You throw in a little bit of this, a little bit of that; a touch of this, a touch of that. You get to see the final product."
The players' days are full for the next two weeks. Wake-up, on most days, is 6:30 a.m. A traditional day includes breakfast, treatment, meetings, practice, lunch, more meetings and dinner. The players will continue to lift even with practices ramping up in speed, intensity and physicality.
"We only have a couple days of two-a-days if you look closely at our schedule," Gale said, "but you get to see how they handle that grind.
"We're not going to lift for eight months and all of a sudden not lift. We've got about seven or eight days during these two weeks of camp that we're going to continue to lift. We think that's extremely important that we can continue to do that. Not that we're going to get stronger in these two weeks, but we're going to maintain in these two weeks."
And, in many other ways, because of ample planning and preparation, this team will grow.