NEW ORLEANS — Good thing for Tulane’s Julius Warmsley that he’s an early riser.
Because if you want to play football for the Green Wave, you have to be.
The team started spring practice at 8 a.m. Monday, just as Curtis Johnson had the Wave doing last fall during his first season as head coach. Only this spring, with construction on the school’s new stadium necessitating a shift of the drills to the New Orleans Saints’ practice facility in Metairie, being late means missing the bus — literally.
“I got up at 6, ate a protein bar for breakfast, made it to the Wilson Center by 6:30 for taping and then meetings and was on the bus at 7:30,” said Warmsley, a senior defensive lineman who prepped at St. Michael the Archangel.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s not that hard for me to get cranking. Once you get your body warmed up, you should be ready to go. It’s nice being in the Saints’ facility, too.”
Johnson’s six years as a Saints assistant facilitated Tulane’s access to the indoor and outdoor facilities on Airline Drive.
The decision to go in the mornings is Johnson’s own.
“Back when I was in college (at Idaho), we were like everybody else,” he said. “You’d have class, class, class in the mornings, then rush over to practice and then maybe study at night.
“This was, the kids get practice over with, then go to class in the afternoon and after that maybe have time to hold hands with their girlfriends or something before they start studying. There’s not as much rushing around this way, and I think we have a little extra pep in our step in the mornings.”
Johnson said he was especially pleased with the way his team picked up things in practice, as opposed to a year ago when the players and the coaches were brand new to each other.
“Offensively, we are a lot further along,” he said. “We’re getting in and out the huddle and guys were lining up correctly.”
Besides the early time for practice, Johnson said the early starting date (the Wave will finish March 9, before some schools even begin spring drills) gives injured players more time to heal. It also allows more time for conditioning and recruiting.
And while practicing in the mornings may take some adjustment, it’s not catching the players off guard since they did it last year.
Sophomore safety Darion Monroe prepared for the change from his high school routine at East St. John last spring and summer by rising early and training under the tutelage of his uncle, Richard Martin.
It must have worked well, because Monroe started every game as a true freshman and was the team’s leading tackler.
“I usually wake up before my alarm anyway,” Monroe said. “The walk over here gets you warmed up too. And then it’s not hard staying awake in class in the afternoon, either. If you want to take a nap, you can always do that after class.”
Senior running back Orleans Darkwa said the key for him is getting to bed early enough the night before — at least by 10:30 p.m.
“You want to make sure you’re alert during the meetings,” he said. “There’s consequences if (you’re not).”
Besides quarterback, where junior college transfer Nick Montana is the front-runner to replace Ryan Griffin, Johnson’s primary goals in the spring are building consistency in the offensive line and finding the right combination in the defensive front.
Warmsley said there exists a good feeling among the players about making overall improvement in a program that has endured 10 straight losing seasons, including a 2-10 record last year.
“There’s not as much of a stress factor this year because we all know each other better,” he said. “We feel like the coaches are molding us like clay, working and working and working to shape our team for better things to come.”