The Kansas University football team’s road to a 2009 Big 12 North title will run through — among other places — Manhattan; Boulder, Colo.; and Austin, Texas.
For the next two months, however, it will run primarily through Chris Dawson.
Kansas this week kicked off its summer conditioning program, a seven-week boot camp of sorts designed to, among other things, prepare players for the rigors of an upcoming college football season. Under the watchful eye of Dawson, a former University of Oklahoma linebacker beginning his seventh year as the Jayhawks’ director of strength and conditioning, the program has developed into a grueling stretch of running and lifting that, years later, still manages to give former players the chills.
“I miss it so much now,” former KU lineman Tony Coker this week said. “But at the time, (there was) the anticipation of what’s in store and what kind of torture they’re going to do to us.”
As far as leisurely summer enjoyment goes, it doesn’t quite rank with water skiing, fishing and golf, but good luck trying to be a successful college football player without it.
Summer conditioning is largely looked upon as a necessary evil in the realm of college football. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for a player to make his greatest strides throughout the course of summer conditioning.
And it is the experience of sweating through a summer with the same 100 teammates, players contend, that builds the kind of chemistry inherent in successful programs.
“There’s nobody better in the country than coach Dawson — and that’s coming from a guy who came to KU very, very underweight and was able to be half-way decent throughout his career,” former KU center David Ochoa said. “And I’m not the only one. If you talk to (former Jayhawks and current NFL players) Aqib (Talib) and Derek Fine, they’ll tell you the same thing.”
For many of the team’s incoming freshmen, meanwhile, it will be the first experience playing the game at the Div. I level. And on the eve of such an event, survivors of the summer program were more than willing to offer a few helpful hints on how to emerge from the summer in one piece — and in the good graces of the team’s coaching staff.
The “do’s”: drink enough water, step to the front of the line during drills, stay off your feet whenever possible and enter camp in some semblance of shape.
Among the “don’ts”: be noticed for the wrong thing, fail to finish drills and rest on the laurels of a successful prep career.
“You have to prove yourself all over again,” Ochoa said. “And quite frankly, whether it’s said or not, your accomplishments in high school might have gotten you to be able to particpate in summer conditioning with a top-tier Div. I program, but it really hasn’t done anything for you in the eyes of the players or the coaches.”
The key, Ochoa said, is understanding the method behind the madness.
“It’s going to be tougher than probably anything they’ve ever done,” he said. “But the fact that they’ll make it through it, and they’ll do well and they’ll have teammates that support them — if they can really believe that, I think they’ll be fine.”