i thought this was america
Welcome to the 2013 Women’s Football Academy!
So, not all of the MGoBlog readership are dudes sitting in their underpants in front of a computer screen. This is my (long form) experience at the event this year; I’ve changed the order of events somewhat for better flow. Grab a beer, this is long. (If you’re driving, put down the beer and your phone and watch where the heck you’re going.)
The Important Thing:
This is really a fundraiser primarily and brought in $110,000 for the Patient and Family Services at the Cancer Center. Woohoo!
The Day Begins:
The gates to parking open at 7:00 and doors open at 7:30, so of course I got there at 6:45 to be first in line. Unfortunately, I wasn’t first, but close enough to it so I would make it to the front of the autograph line. Starting at 7:30 the players are in the parking lot greeting the women as they arrive, but I missed that in lieu of autograph signing. Last year I wasn’t there at the crack of dawn and consequently was at the back of the line for Denard and I didn’t want to be at the back of the line (for anyone) again.
After check in where you receive your T-shirt, badge, wrist band and fundraising prizes it was breakfast time and autograph time. This year, to make sure that the most women get autographs from the “high value” players, they had the “high value” players at one set of tables with one line. One item per person, no photos (I broke this rule) and lots of volunteers to move people along. At the table were: Russ Bellomy, Courtney Avery, Drew Dileo, Jibreel Black, Jake Ryan, Jeremy Gallon, Devin Gardner, Brendan Gibbons, Jeremy Jackson, Fitz Touissant, Taylor Lewan and Quinton Washington (maybe 1 more I don’t remember). I asked if the seniors had a good time at Navy Seals camp and they said they did. I also asked if anyone got injured there and they said no. I asked Russ Bellomy and Jake Ryan about their recoveries and they both said that they are progressing nicely. Jake said he isn’t sure if he will play this season (although later he said he is aiming for a 6 month recovery so he can play part of the season).
I told Taylor Lewan that his internet fan base is very concerned about the fate of Dr. Hamlet III and asked why they had to get rid of him – specifically was it a landlord issue? As it turns out, one of the player’s parents owns the house and has the players live there so it wasn’t a landlord issue, but an aggressive pig issue. They gave him to a farm (a real one, not the fake one in the sky). They did not eat him. While I did not ask to see Lewan’s finger ‘stache, I did ask to see Bellomy’s, Ryan’s and Touissant’s surgery scars. Fitz’s scar is not as large as you would think and it is still quite swollen and red (indurated is the word that medical types would use) – I expected it would be much flatter and smoother by now. Jeremy Jackson was very nice and we chatted about A2 after he found out I was a local. I got pics with Jake Ryan (I sat on his good leg), Devin, Jeremy Gallon and Brendan Gibbons. My friend and I were duly chastised by the volunteers for slowing down the line. Oh well…
After navigating the line we were free to find other players and coaches to chat and get autographs. We first saw Al Borges. I asked him about his relationship with Heiko and does he really like Heiko? He said “I like Heiko to argue with him.” Since I think it is awesome that Heiko is doing this in his free time from his MD/PhD, I asked if he knew that. Borges answered, “Yea, he’s a darn stubborn med student!” My friend’s son goes to school with the Borges kids and they chatted about school, teachers, etc… My friend’s sister was waiting in the Brady Hoke line for us, so we got to see a few other players. I spoke with Desmond Morgan (whom I ate lunch with last year) and thanked him for spending time with us and told him how it’s really nice to get to know some players as it makes me more invested in their FB careers. I told him how I cheered for him so much more since I know what a nice person he is. He was very humble and thanked me for the support. I also spoke briefly with Frank Clark, who was carrying around a ½ gallon of OJ. I decided it best not to bring up the trouble with the law and just get the signature and say “Go Blue”. He is huge, by the way. I got an autograph and pic with Coach Mattison. I asked about the off season and his grandkids and they are both doing fine (off season and grandkids, that is). My friend, her sister and I were the last people to get Coach Hoke’s autograph and picture before the Welcome Ceremony. They were chatting about being native Ohioans and I just said “Go Blue”.
The Welcome Ceremony:
This was hosted by Ira somebody and Sam Webb. Now, as this is a fundraiser for Patient and Family Services at the Cancer Center, we listened to some speeches about Patient and Family Services and how much good we do by fundraising. Sam Webb told a personal story about his wife’s struggle with ovarian cancer and how she is now pregnant! Very touching. Then we get into the football basics – first they told us “Don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with – someone broke her nose last year and we don’t want that again.” I was thinking that she was probably comfortable until she broke her nose! Then we got a breakdown of what each position on the field is. This was something new and very helpful. While you guys may have played football or learned about it in gym, I (and many other women), certainly never learned these things. So Mark Smith went position by position telling us the name and the function of each position and which player will be starting there. This is where we learned the difference between WILL and MIKE and that Desmond Morgan is being moved from WILL to MIKE. After a few chants of “Beat Ohio”, we were off to team stretching.
The Football Learning Part:
We all spread out on the yard lines in the field house and did stretching with the team. Dennis Norfleet was on my left and Devin Funchess was on my right. I managed to get a pic with Funchess before the volunteers made me get back in line. But, I did manage to talk to Norfleet while we stretched. I asked what music is in his head when he is drumming on field and he told me “anything, mostly R&B”. I asked what his major is and he told me music. It turns out he is a singer. He also told me he doesn’t like “pump up” music, just relaxing R&B.
My first rotation was QB. Thankfully they had small balls for us and our smaller hands (heh, heh, she said balls). We learned the grip from Devin and he described the throwing motion as “flicking the booger”. Only the index finger needs to be flicking the booger, any others are just going to mess up the relationship between the index finger and the ball. Then we had to get down on our knees (on field turf, in shorts, mind you) to throw to your partner. I got some coaching from Cleary (the walk on QB) and Bellomy. The QBs do this to practice the throwing motion and not worry about feet. I asked Bellomy if he is doing this drill and he is not allowed to do this yet. Then we worked on “sexy feet”, which you guys know is the stepping and turning involved in throwing. Devin is a clown and spent the time teasing Borges and clowning with us ladies. Then we broke it down by yelling “Go Blue” and doing a swag (hard to describe, you need to see it).
Next station, O-line, led by Taylor Lewan. We worked on the stance and shoving our opponent (one of the players) in the man boobs. There wasn’t very much exciting stuff here. When we were breaking it down at the end, Lewan was very funny. He was saying, “Everybody bring it in tight, nice and close, make me feel safe. Oh, I love being surrounded to so many moms. You all make me feel safe.” Then we yelled, “O-line is the most attractive” over and over.
I’m pretty sure we punted after that. Hagerup was not involved and Wile wasn’t there, so it was the backup punter, Kenneth Allen (who?) that helped us break our toes. Punting is hard.
Running backs up next. I was in Norfleet’s line (there were only 2 of us per player). We did drills on weaving in and out of cones. It was a race, so a lot of sprinting here. This is where I noticed the “D” and “N” tattooed on his calves (L and R respectively). Each letter has flames coming off of it. Pretty nice view for the people behind him.
Off to the Linebackers station with Coach Mark Smith. 3 players were there, Desmond Morgan was one, but I can’t recall the other 2. We broke off into small groups and did drills shadowing our receiver, making sure we followed all their moves. After that we practiced shuffling different directions based on which way the QB is looking; we had to switch whenever our QB looked the other way, and then, of course, catch the interception and bring it home for a touchdown. It was good practice catching, but nothing else really notable at this point.
Coach Mallory then coached us on how to have a proper stance and “take off” for backward running. This is more tricky than you think and we spent quite a while getting into the stance and taking one step at the whistle. My hamstrings are paying for this today.
We got into the nitty gritty of diagram reading and how to make a proper huddle. I had no idea that there was a way to make a proper huddle; it always looked random to me. The center calls the huddle and then the players line up in order on either side, making a circle and the QB is opposite the center. Then we went over some easy plays. We ran several of the easy plays, using large barrels as the defense. I think this really helped us later on when we were in our scrimmage. Also, flag football belts are trickier than they look.
Next we went to kill our toes again, or if you happen to be a former soccer player, kick field goals. I didn’t really do anything exciting, but my friend was with Gibbons and got a lot of info. It turns out that he has graduated as well and is pursuing a graduate degree in Social Work. They spent a long time talking business as she is a social worker. I don’t think that his handlebar mustache (yes, handlebar) and goatee combo will go over well in the professional world.
Next was the route running station. We learned a route (stick route) and ran that a few times. Kevin Koger (not Kroger) was there. He turned out to be a good passer and none of us dropped the ball. OK, we’re getting pretty pooped here and it’s time to move on.
TACKLING! Yea! One of my favorites! We have to tackle a small dummy and jump onto the 3 ft thick mat. Then we catch an interception, jump into the endzone and do a celebration dance (did I mention, they like to make us dance?). Finally, we have a course of dummies to go through and tackle, catch the ball and score. I was fading folks, I don’t remember who coached us here. But, we brought ENERGY and got lots of high fives.
The home stretch, back outside to the practice field. Here we started with receiving drills. We split into 3 lines and did route after route catching the ball. The line with the most drops has to do pushups, so there is motivation. Unfortunately, my line was full of butterfingers and we lost. Fortunately, the horn blew just then and we were off the hook and off to receiver station! I really didn’t want anyone seeing me do girly pushups.
Jeremy Jackson, Jeremy Gallon, Joe Reynolds and many others were here. We practiced different routes, all leading to the TD. Of course there was more celebration dancing and Gallon was the one egging us on. We also got to run the dong forest here, and Coach Heck threw us the passes as we ran through. I caught all my passes! Just remember to keep your hands in front of your face, index fingers and thumbs making a triangle (see, it’s easy). When we were breaking it down, we all yelled “Receivers are the cutest” and Gallon did a back flip for us.
Then it was time for the defensive ends and I have Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton coaching me. They were talking crap to each other a lot, which was funny. Ojemudia is not nearly as intimidating as he looks in his recruiting photo and is, actually, very soft spoken. He was extremely unimpressed with my stance, I need to bend my legs more, butt up higher, and on and on. I’m glad I didn’t wear my see through shorts. Taco Charlton is VERY tall (not Tacopants tall, though). He was also very patient with me and the other 2 ladies, trying to get us to take the 3 moves and make them into 1 smooth movement. I was tired and irritated by all the black rubber crap in my shoes. I didn’t do well.
Last station was the defense x’s and o’s. We got 2 schemes, cover 1 and cover 3. I decided to be a safety, so Thomas Gordon walked me and the other safeties through the ins and outs of how to be a safety. Basically, NEVER LET A MAN BEHIND YOU. Easier said than done. Also, we went over how to use the flag belts properly (see, trickier than you thought). We were given the advice that on offense, tie them and if on defense you see the offense has tied them, turn them in for a penalty!
Big Ten Refs:
We had a session with some Big Ten refs. They explained what it takes to be a ref, like continuing education, testing and evaluations. They actually have standardized testing to pass both in June and July ANNUALLY, so those of you who complain about recertification 1 time per decade shut your trap. There is also work in every month of the year, like learning new rules, etc…We discussed Offensive and Defensive Pass Interference including the definition of those and reviewed tape of said infractions. Then they had tape for us to review and make the call. They did show how, on the field, perspective makes a difference, as you may be able to see a shove from one angle and not another. Each ref is reviewed on every call, every non-call and every play of every game. We were told that some calls are much more subjective than others and you can often make your case as to why you did or didn’t call something. The most serious infraction is getting the rules wrong. That is an easy way to lose your job. The 2 officials agreed that the best game of the season is the 1st because it means you kept your job. One lady asked about bias toward calling infractions as they did state that they review tape on each team before they ref the games. By reviewing they can look for tendencies of certain teams or players so they can be watching for that. The officials did admit it that this practice may, in fact, make them more likely to call things on certain teams or players. I was going to ask about bias toward schools, like if you are an Ohio alum are you allowed to call their game, but the horn sounded and it was time to move on.
The Weight Room And Locker Room:
We were then in the weight room, which is 10,000 square feet. It has traditional weights, cardio machines, rehab machines and many stone-age looking things. It is emblazoned with inspirational sayings from many notables from Lao Tzu to Michael Jordan. “Beat Ohio” takes a predominant place, as does “The Team, The Team, The Team”. There is a countdown clock to the Ohio State game and a count up clock of “Days Since last Victory over Ohio State”. There is also a MSU countdown clock, not as prominent. We had a talk from the athletic trainers about what they do and how they work with the kids over the summer (only 8hrs/week). The head coach, position coach and head trainer devises an individualized plan for each athlete to complete over the off season, so each athlete knows what to work on. The nutritionist (who is former nutritionist for the Patriots) also develops a diet plan based on the need to gain or lose weight. When they are in a muscle building phase, it is recommended to get 1g protein/pound body weight. They don’t regularly do strict calorie counting because if you are getting that much protein the calories “fall into place”. There is a nutrition station in the weight room with protein bars, snacks (lots of nuts and jerky), protein shakes, Gatorade, pop, etc… Taylor Lewan benches 420#. Jeremy Gallon benches the most “pound for pound” (wt lifted/player wt). They use medieval looking chains to enhance lifting. The idea is when the bar is low there are fewer links to lift and it gets heavier as you move it higher. This can be for bench pressing or squats. The trainer was telling us that this matches the physiologic muscle power curve, or some such thing. Some machines are also hooked to a pressurized air line so that resistance can be adjusted. The last, greatest piece in the weight room, near the entrance (where we exited, as we had entered through the rear) is the National Championship Ring. It is as large as a bracelet! But, apparently someone has really enormous fingers. It has a lot of bling on it and is awesome!
Locker room is next, and it is a posh locker room. There were snacks waiting for us: fruit (apples, bananas), jerky (beef, turkey and vegan) as well as Gatorade. The locker room has 2 levels with the upper level on the outside and the lower level sunken centrally. The upperclassmen are on the bottom level, where there are couches and chairs (leather!). Devin Gardner has a photo of the team (OMG) shirtless in the snow on the practice field. There was a lot of equipment to look at, but mostly we were hungry and also wanting to touch Taylor Lewan’s mousse (yes, mousse).
Almost lunch! We were treated to feats of strength by Frank Clark, Desmond Morgan and someone else. They lifted heavy chains with people pulling the chains down, did pushups with 50# sandbags on their backs and rolled an enormous (5ft tall) round weight cylinder up and down the field. All with crazy, tired, and hungry women screaming them on.
Lunch and Q&A:
Yummy buffet. Some speechifying. I give them kudos for including diet drinks in the drink line up.
The Q&A was a panel led by Mattison and had Borges, 2 coaches wives, Devin Gardner, Taylor Lewan and Jake Ryan. Mattison asked Taylor what went into his decision to stay at Michigan (and “give up millions of dollars”) vs. go to the NFL. He told us that almost everyone he had ever met came out of the woodwork to give him conflicting advice. In the end, he shut off his phone, had some alone time and thought about what was important to him. What is important? Winning a Big Ten Championship. Not letting his teammates down. Enjoying being a student at Michigan. He said, “I will never get that year back. I will have many years in the NFL, but only one year left here and I can’t just come back and redo it if I leave.” His voice is much higher than you would think for someone so burly. Then Mattison asked Jake Ryan about his injury and how he’s doing. Ryan told us his goal is to recover in 6 months. He is doing PT 3.5 hours per day in addition to working out and taking classes. He had some trouble coping with the injury emotionally and he relied on Countess and Wormley for advice on how to deal with the limitations and expectations.
Mattison then asked Borges about life as a coach. Borges replied that for 43 years he lived and breathed football until he met his wife. Then his perspective changed and he adjusted his goals. He had been aiming for the NFL, but after getting married, he and wife decided that there was more coaching stability in college. Eight years ago, they adopted their first child arrived and, again, perspective changed again. You don’t spend as much time in the office or locker room as when you are a carefree single dude. Six years ago, daughter arrived. More perspective change. He did laugh about being an older father. He joked that when his kids are teenagers, if he tells them no, they can’t have the car, they will unplug his ventilator. Very happy to be at Michigan, etc…Then the coaches wives were asked what it is like being a “football widow”. One answered, “I’m tired of the neighbors asking if my husband lives (at home)”. The other answered, “You really are a single parent. You are the disciplinarian, the chef, the chauffeur, the bottle washer. You are it. You have to be ok with it. Some women get lost in their husband’s identity and that is a big risk not to have your own works or outside activities.”
Mattison then praised Gardner effusively for the self sacrifice in riding the bench behind Denard when he could have been at a different school being the star, taking the WR position and resuming the role of QB in a pinch. Devin admitted it was hard to relearn the QB things after focusing so hard on WR. His stats show he worked hard – 1200 yards, 60% completion, 11 TDs in 5 games (or something like that Mr. Statistician, I did this all from memory, no notes). He said he had to miss some classes to catch up. Now he is very glad to be the #1 QB.
One woman then asked about academics and what support they get. Many of these things we already knew: the players get priority scheduling during the season as they may not have classes after 2:00pm. They have academic counselors and tutors. Devin detailed a day: wake up at 6:00am and workout, classes from 8:00am-2:00pm, practice and workout 2:00pm-7:00pm and homework/tutoring 8:00pm-11:00pm. He said, “I don’t feel sorry for the students complaining about 8:00 class that is hard to wake up for. I already worked out for 2 hours; I feel like I got run over by a truck; I want a nap; I’m tired and I have to work out more later.” The wives pointed out that the players can’t take just Basketweaving 101 during the season, they actually have to take a minimum number of credits that is reported to the NCAA.
The guys were asked about pre-game rituals. Gardner says he is very mean before games and inward focused. He doesn’t like to talk to anyone and listens to Gospel music. He did say he will have to learn to not be mean before games now that he is one of the leaders. Lewan said, “I don’t do anything crazy like put my underwear on over my pants or anything.” He does feel that the warm up gets him very amped up for the game and he can’t sit down after warm ups, he just paces and walks circles in the locker room. He will listen to John Mayer to bring him down if he is amped up too much. Jake Ryan has a strange pre-game ritual that goes back to his first game starting, Western Michigan. He wears sweatbands around his knees (take a look, it’s true). At the Western Game, he was running behind and put his cleats on before the sweatbands. He realized it late and kind of squirmed into them. Now that is how he does it every game. Why does he wear sweatbands around his knees? “Because I think I’m cool or something.” The same girl who asked about pre-game ritual also told the players that us meeting them is like a 5 year old girl meeting Justin Bieber. Too true.
To the Big House! We played 11-on-11 and were coached by Coach Heck and the receivers. It is HOT on the field. We played offense and defense for about a half hour and our team won!
That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed my experience at Women’s Football Academy!
I know, I know "Pix or it didn't happen". I do have pix, but I prefer to keep those private.