Spring football is terrible.
Oh, I should elaborate on that? It’s the airport of the football schedule. There is much excitement leading up to it … “Gonna put the pads on again!” … “No more 6 a.m. cone drills in the Air Supported Structure!” It’s something akin to, “We’re going to get to travel again! Its been so long!” and “I’m so excited to see my friend, it feels like it’s been *years*”
Quickly though, you realize that before you get to see your friend you have to check your bag. You have to go through security. You suddenly remember that — “oh yeah, I got here three hours before the flight is even taking off, and ... oh look, it’s delayed.”
Someday you’ll see that friend. But it isn’t really today. Or is it still? I can’t tell.
This is, inevitably, the experience of spring football for players. At least it was for me. Yes, you’re padded up again (well, unless you’re not that day). Yes, you’re getting to hit (well, not actually tackle most of the time) and invariably even then there are three coaches screaming “Stay up! Stay up! Stay up!”
But it’s still football, right? Well yeah. Against the same people you’ve seen everyday in practice that fall ... well, except for the people who left. Which speaking of, we have about 30% fewer people here this spring than we did in the fall don’t we? Well that means fewer reps, right?
No. That is not what it means. Well, that’s great, more learning for me. Wait what? Andy rolled his ankle and I need to play center now? But I’ve never played that before? What’s that? We have six healthy offensive lineman ON THE ROSTER at the moment. Ok I’ll play center. Wait — oh no, did Henry just …
So now there are five healthy O-lineman on the roster. We gonna lighten up coach? No? You’re saying there isn’t a game we need to be healthy for? So full speed ahead? Ok great. Well at least we’ve been doing this for a while, how many practices could be left. Oh, it’s still week one? Not even a scrimmage has happened yet?
Like an airport, spring ball often feels like a time vortex. No sense of time, no sense of place, just … more. Until the moment you’ve landed. The spring game has come and gone, and your captain is wishing you well and to come back soon. Enjoy the summer.
It’s all a bit of a whirl wind. Which isn’t all bad, but is all a bit monotonous eventually.
Take my cynicism with a grain of salt. It was a spring practice injury that ended my career. So some smoldering resentment could be bleeding through. With that said, I actually think spring football might be the most relatable part of the college football calendar for those of us in the “real world.”
Real life doesn’t have games every week. So, for most people, the actual football season is a fun distraction from or structure for the rhythms of life — not something that really resembles it.
Winter training doesn’t have games either. In fact, it doesn’t even have football! Just weights, conditioning, and normal college kid stuff like classes. However, that is the problem there. While most of the “real world” doesn’t have a game you build up to, life does tend to require you to engage in its base activities.
For example, I never take a break from fatherhood to develop some key attribute like empathy or patience the way winter training is all about adding or trimming a player’s weight, or making an athlete faster or more coordinated.
Summer has the same problems as winter, because again you set aside actual football practices in favor of physical development. It would be like your boss paying you to go back to school for 3 months every year.
Don’t get me wrong, football players play football in the winter and summer. They just can’t be coached. So they do it in groups or on your own. This is a bit like your boss sending you off to school and then shouting, “Hey, if you’re a great employee you’ll find time to work on those expense reports on your own while you’re doing it!”
So this leaves us with spring football. You’re doing the thing you’re actually paid to do. It’s just that there isn’t a big competition every week to see how you stack up. There is just the job. Just the role. Just the practice. It’s packing a toddler’s lunch before bed every night. You’ll never really blow it out for that lunch — smoke up a rack of ribs, bake a red velvet cake, and buy the extra big tub of macaroni salad. You’ll never use that lunch to show off to all the other parents, or make your two-and-a-half-year-old the talk of the Pre-K room. You’ll just make the lunch. With the peanut butter wrap and cheese. Maybe the leftover chicken nugget. Whatever you did yesterday, or maybe slightly different.
It’s not that you don’t want to do it well, or do it better than the day before. You do! Always. It’s not that it isn’t fun! It is. It’s just that life doesn’t value one day over the other, and neither does spring football.
For example, going into the spring of 2010, my coaches had decided that I had spent two seasons playing with poor pad level because I was simply too heavy. 320ish, depending on if I was starting that week and got more reps in practice. They were right! I was playing high, though I didn’t realize it myself until that spring, when I was a lithe 305.
Early on in one practice I got LOW on one play, an inside zone double team, and I felt it immediately. I dreamed about it that night. My entire world was changing, opening up as a college football player. I saw my future. Finally.
Then, the next day? My career was over.
Because of course that’s the other thing about spring football. It’s still football, and football can end at any moment.
Sometimes I forget how much that aspect of football is relatable too. Life can change in an instant. A diagnosis. A chance meeting. An accident. An invitation. We can get so lost in the airport time vortex of it all that we can miss the sheer amount of pain and suffering going on around us. Just as easily we can miss the equal amounts of joy sitting right there next to it.
In the fall, the pain and the joy all happen on Saturday. In the spring, like in life, they happen every play, every day. All the time.
So enjoy the spring “game” this weekend everyone. I find spring football to be terrible. But the plane is landing for the players, so why not take a moment to land yours as well and take stock? It’s April, almost May, and while my spring this year has been a difficult one, seeing that spring football is ending gives me a bit of hope.