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Utes Fall Camp – Day 6

It was a very physical day at camp today. We got to see a good amount of team period and I’m still impressed by this teams focus and practice tempo. There’s not a team in the Pac 12 that out works this group. Kyle Whittingham pushes these guys hard every day.  There’s a confidence that you gain as an athlete from hard work that you can’t gain in any other way.

You’ve probably heard me talking about week two in camp. Your brain starts to shut down. You’re too sore to get the sleep you need to feel rested and you’re too tired to pay full attention in the meeting room from the lack of sleep. The elation of the new season has worn off and the drudgery of a 12 week season starts to loom on you. You’re constantly hungry, so when you get a chance to eat, you over eat. Then practice number two rolls around and the heat and hard hitting makes you want to puke. You starve for normalcy, so you try to hurry home for some video games in between practices, but half way through your game you realize you missed a special teams meeting or a therapy session that your trainer set up for you. The lack of focus you had in meetings follows you to the field and the new installation is called in the huddle. You’re brain is mush at this point and it sounds like someone is yelling German in your huddle. You want to ask the coach what the hell was just called (like they ask you to do) but you don’t want to get your ass chewed. After some quick deep thought, you ask your team mate and he feeds you some intel that may or may not be accurate, but you go with it anyway. This results in a blown gap assignment or block which gets you extra conditioning or classroom work or just a good chewing. It’s the most vicious circle I’ve faced in my life to this point.

You have to be able to keep your focus and when camp is through, you’re a better football player for facing the fight. To be frank with you, you’re a better man as well. My seven professional camps set a level of pain, disappointment, exhaustion and work load that defined my limits. In my life as a working member of society, I know I’ll never touch the limits I set for myself in football camp. You’re pushed to the edge.
I can see the fight is on with this group right now. They feel like they’re not doing a lot of things right. They’re getting yelled at by coaches and they don’t even have the energy to fight back. They just quietly drop their heads and go back to the huddle dejected. The newness of the offense is showing itself from time to time. Missed blocks, bad drops, errant throws and blown calls are occurring, but people, this is the norm for week two.

I’ll share a brief interaction I observed that made me smile with a euphoric emotion. Poutasi didn’t have his best day today. It’s very rare to see him get beat or make a mistake, but I saw each of those things happen on the field today. He’s a big sensitive kid, I can tell he takes an ass chewing hard. The offensive line coach Dan Finn is an intelligent line leader that lets you know about your mistakes. Poutasi looked beat down and depressed after team drills and that’s when I saw coaching in its finest form. Dan Finn caught up with the big man as he was walking off the field. He put his big papa bear arm around the giant sophomore and had a very private, one on one talk that resonated with Poutasi.  His eyes lit up, he nodded in acceptance and he finished his walk off the field with his head up. Those moments when you feel like you can’t do anything right, when your  world is ending, when you want to quit and a coach whispers through your helmet “It’s going to get better” are some of the best moments I’ve taken from life. I could tell this was one of those moments. These pigs love Dan Finn! He’s been in the trenches at the highest level, he’s seen the battles, he knows the pain and that’s what makes those few words so valuable. It was a cool moment to witness. I caught up with Dan and you can hear that interview here on the web site.

So the guy that was causing fits for Poutasi is now chomping at the bit to go watch film. That was Viliseni Fauonuku. He’s a sophomore out of Bingham and is playing the edge in one of the new 3-4 front looks. He was on his game! He had a one step move with a slap swim finish that gave Poutasi no place to fit his hands. It was a quick violent move, the kind that leaves a lineman with a blank stare when the coach asks you “what happened out there?”. The following play, he sniffed out a screen and fought off a chop block to knock the pass to the ground. He looked good and he’s a name we tend to forget with the emergence of Palepoi and Tuipulotu. Viliseni is going to see the field a lot this year, and he’s earning it every day in practice.

There are going to be constant momentum shifts from offense to defense in camp. Coaches script practice to go that way. They run offensive plays away from blitzes to see how the defense reacts in the face of adversity. The defense will run a line stunt into a power play to see if the HB can hold onto the ball when he’s hit in the backfield. They script plays to break for big gains to see how the leaders deal with it on the field. People on the outside looking in just see it as a broken play when it might be scripted that way for a purpose. I always hated that as a player, but I see its positive effects now.

What I see right now is a group of guys going through the battle and getting closer with every obstacle they overcome. I like this group of guys. They’re close knit. They have wives that bring kids to practice. They spend 20 or 30 minutes after practice sharing hugs with each other’s wives and kids, getting in some good stories and laughs. They’re growing together, knowing that the second week of camp will pass. What they don’t know yet, is how much better they’ll be for it when it does.
I’ll check in with you tomorrow.