Three Lawrence High football players recently took a four-day vacation from their summer routine that starts with football strength and conditioning camp that stretches from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
During that vacation from football conditioning, juniors Drake Hofer, Erick Mayo and Brad Strauss spent their days learning football fundamentals at the University of Notre Dame football camp. They made a side trip to Chicago to watch a night baseball game at Wrigley Field.
And those were the only four days of conditioning the players missed.
“Summer’s the most important time for getting better, I think,” said Mayo, a receiver/cornerback. “We’re all here at 7 in the morning, getting better together. It creates good team chemistry. Seniors last year helped us a lot by coming here every day.”
But every day? Why does it have to be every day when it’s voluntary?
“You have to be here so everyone knows it’s important,” Mayo said. “You have to make an effort. You kind of lose respect for somebody if they’re not here doing what you’re doing every day and they think they’re better than the team.”
As for why the conditioning sessions take place so early, LHS football coach Dirk Wedd said it’s not so that the players get to bed early, although he doesn’t deny that’s a nice bonus.
“If they have jobs, they can still get to their jobs,” Wedd said. “If they have baseball, they can still play baseball. If they have AAU basketball, they can still do that. Getting it out of the way early in the morning is really good.”
Wedd considers Fred Roll, the former KU strength and conditioning coach, to be the key to the program during the summer.
“We care about total body strength,” Wedd said. “We care about conditioning.”
But the benefits extend beyond the body.
“The key is on Sept. 2, against Shawnee Mission West, we’ve got the ball on the 2-yard line and everyone in that huddle is holding hands, ready to score a touchdown,” Wedd said. “They look around and they’ve all done the same thing. They’ve spent the whole summer sweating together in this room, busting their tails on the field getting in shape. We’re going to score. That’s my belief.”
Wedd can’t make players attend, but the players are encouraged to attend, except when they have compelling reasons to miss the workouts.
“We had someone gone for a week of hiking for his merit badge as part of becoming an Eagle scout,” Wedd said. “That’s important too.”
The three players who attended Notre Dame football camp received more than tips on football fundamentals from the experience. Each was asked what he enjoyed most about the trip to Notre Dame.
“Getting to see the Notre Dame campus and getting to walk around, see the football tradition they have there,” Mayo said. “I liked how the stadium is right in the middle of everything and you can walk around campus from there.”
Said Hofer: “Touchdown Jesus was really cool, the way it overlooks the stadium and you could see it from campus.”
Said Strauss: “I liked going downstairs and touching the ‘Play like a champion’ sign. Seeing them do that on TV and then getting to experience that was pretty cool.”
The three juniors rank among many reasons Lawrence High, which finished 3-6 during an injury-marred 2010 season, has a realistic shot at its first winning season since 2006.
Strauss started at quarterback and safety and returned kicks and punts.
“Being a sophomore, I thought he handled it about as well as any kid I’ve ever had, as far as leadership and being a quarterback,” Wedd said. “He led by example and the seniors really respected that.”
When the bumps and bruises started to pile up for Strauss, Wedd stopped playing him on defense, despite the sophomore wanting to continue playing both ways. At that point, Hofer stepped in at safety and “did a tremendous job,” according to Wedd. He is expected to move to cornerback with Strauss returning to safety. Hofer also will play at receiver.
Mayo played on both sides of the ball the second half of the season.
“He’s had a great summer both in the weight room and in seven-on-seven (scrimmages),” Wedd said. “His grandfather, Mike Browning, was a counselor at Lawrence High and a tremendous football player in the early ’60s. So Erick’s kind of grown up bleeding red and black and being a Lion, so it means a lot to him to be a Lawrence High football player.”
Reporting to the weight room every morning at 7 a.m. makes it mean even more.
“I like coming here,” Mayo said. “It prepares us for the season.”