The time will come for donning equipment, smacking pads and running plays on the Southern University practice fields. Thursday afternoon, however, was not that time.
The players dressed in powder blue T-shirts and gold gym shorts would have surely preferred fall camp to simply running wind sprints. There’s little fun in lining up on one goal line, racing to the other and repeating the drill a dozen times.
But it was a necessary part of getting ready for the season, a welcome-back-to-campus conditioning test every Jaguar must pass.
“They were over there (beforehand) praying and singing ‘Kumbaya’ and doing everything they could,” said Southern strength and conditioning coach Corliss Fingers, who administered the tests. “I saw them in the dining hall eating just one piece of fruit, one leaf of lettuce — doing everything they could to make sure they didn’t die today.”
Thirty-six players who worked with Fingers during the summer and already passed their tests last month spent Thursday afternoon cheering teammates from the comforts of the sidelines. That left 58 players looking to make the mark.
The players went back and forth, sprinting 100 yards the length of the field, resting for 22 seconds and then sprinting back the same way they came. They did this six times — for a total of 1,200 yards in sprints.
Wide receivers and defensive backs had to make each 100-yard sprint in under 15 seconds. Running backs, linebackers, fullbacks, kickers and quarterbacks got 16 seconds. Offensive and defensive linemen had 18.
Fingers paced the goal line nearest the A.W. Mumford Field House, reading numbers on a stopwatch and barking them out to the players as they approached her.
“I wouldn’t want to have to do it again,” said junior wide receiver Burnett King, who worked out with Fingers this summer and passed the test on his second try last month.
Southern will get down to the nuts and bolts of practicing football when fall camp opens at 8:30 a.m. Friday. But the 16 players who failed to pass Thursday’s conditioning test must rise much earlier than their more fortunate teammates.
“I will see them at 6:15 tomorrow morning,” Fingers said. “We’ll run the entire test again.”
If the players who failed Thursday fail again on their second attempt, they must continue reporting back to Fingers each morning until they get it right.
But no one is excused from football practice, no matter how many days it takes.
“It’s going be really bad if we get to two-a-days and they still haven’t passed,” Fingers said.
Fingers said players like King who stayed in town during the summer and went through the early morning workouts she oversaw had a leg up on the ones who returned home. But she gave every Jaguar who left for the summer a detailed workout plan to follow.
King said the summer with Fingers cured the hamstring injury that kept him from contributing last season.
“Her workouts were so hard, my hamstring had no choice but to get better,” he said.
Fingers arrived at Southern in the spring after spending 15 years as an assistant strength coach at Maryland. She is the rare female charged with whipping college football players into shape, but the Jaguars learned soon enough to take her seriously.
Senior defensive back Levi Jackson said Fingers has helped him push his max in the power clean to 315 pounds.
“She definitely brought a different attitude and mindset to the strength and conditioning program that we really didn’t have before,” Jackson said. “She really got it out of us this summer.”
Fingers is heading up the strength and conditioning program for all Southern sports, but she could pay instant dividends for a football team that lost four of its six games last year decided by single digits.
The same no-nonsense approach she showed in the weight room throughout the summer carried over to the practice field the day before Southern opened camp.
The numbers on her stopwatch read pass or fail — nothing in between.
Fingers told the story of one player Thursday who made 11 of the 12 sprints he ran in the required time. She said he might as well have made none.
“He may be thinking I’ll be nice enough to let it slide through,” Fingers said. “Not a chance.”