The coaches may call it a blessing, while the players likely consider it more of a curse. Either way, Mississippi State’s football team has the fortune, good or bad, of having a massive farm on campus. Two of them, actually, and one will be home to 105 MSU players and nearly as many coaches, GAs, trainers and managers for the next two weeks as the meat of their call camp moves to MSU’s South Farm on the edge of campus.
And it’s awful. Terrible. Scorching, sticky and smelly from the combination of sweaty athletes and live farm animals on the surrounding fields.
“It’s hot, it stinks and it smells like cow,” Dak Prescott summarized pretty accurately. “It’s a farm.”
And it’s only gotten worse since he offered that description. When practices began last week, oddly-cool weather had the temperatures in the 70s and the humidity low, feeling more like Oregon than Mississippi.
Coaches were a touch disappointed in the less-than-Amazonian weather, saying God must have been looking out for the players. But if it was God watching over them last week, it’s the Devil’s turn as the week turns and practice at The Farm begins.
“Today,” offensive line coach John Hevesy said, “when we put pads on, it’ll be 95-100 degrees.”
It’s only going to get hotter as the week goes on, too. Latest projections show temps in the 90s and clouds nearly non-existent, the kind of skies that become a haze and the type of sun which is completely inescapable.
To make the misery complete, Starkville and MSU’s campus bore the brunt of a heavy system on Sunday as lightning and rain pounded the area through the afternoon and evening. Rain during practice is great. Rain the day before?
“Rain makes it muddy,” Prescott offered simply. “And when the mud comes, it’s even worse.”
As 300-pound men tramp across the field, their massive cleated and taped-up feet sink into mud with every step. Not enough that it will be hot and exhausting on its own, now each step becomes that much harder, the willpower needed to even jog from drill-to-drill increases exponentially.
The air around them will be thick with humidity, as nearly any August day in this state is, but the worst moisture is what comes from the mud, the wet heat steaming up from the ground, engulfing their legs and whipping their faces.
It’s the opposite of fun, which is exactly how the coaches want it.
There are precautions to take, of course. Players are required to drink so much Gatorade to replace the fluids lost through sweat and eat so many thousands of calories to counteract the pounds they’ll lose in each practice. A lineman could see his weight drop 10 pounds in a day if he doesn’t keep up his intake.
Naps aren’t required by coaches, but air mattresses will cover the floor of MSU’s locker room. 15-minute naps are like precious stones and a full hour to rest mid-day is as rare and beautiful as the brightest crown jewel.
For most of camp on The Farm, the team will be staying together at a hotel, completely cut off from anything but football. Hot, fast-paced, unending football.
You have to love it, even if you hate it. Young players have to lean on veterans for support. This is the time of year when freshmen may find they hit a wall. Dillon Day, MSU’s senior center, contemplated giving it up during his first camp. 2012 Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks had actually packed up and gone home during his first camp, only to be persuaded to return by an elder member of the secondary.
“It’s time to separate the men from the boys,” defensive line coach David Turner tweeted.
Call it initiation, a rite of passage or just organized misery, camp on The Farm is the preparation all Bulldogs must finish, the Hell they must pass through to get to Heaven.
“We’ll find out a lot more about the kids,” Hevesy said.
If the past is any indication, they’ll learn plenty about themselves, too.