Out of His League
columnist learns lessons about teamwork and hustle in tryout for Chippewa Valley Predators
How many times have you been watching a football game, saw a defender whiff on a tackle, and said out loud, “That guy’s terrible, I could do better than that.”
You sure about that? Have you ever played organized football, at least since high school? Do you think you could match these athletes? As a person with the same athletic aptitude as the generic fan described above, I decided to find out for myself.
I tried out for a football team.
No matter how winded, you run: from drill to huddle, from huddle to sideline, from drill finish to drill start. Never. Ever. Walk.
My audition with the Chippewa Valley Predators was done with the understanding that I was not actually going to make the team, no matter my performance. Thankfully, General Manager Matt Risen thought the idea of a media member going through the drills was similarly fascinating, so I did my stretching, drank my water, and swung by the Eau Claire Indoor Sports Center on a December afternoon to see how I would perform.
My stats: 5’ 10”, 145 pounds, age 38, having never played football other than a little elementary school recess and a handful of outings with friends my senior year of college. In other words, I was not experienced in playing a high-intensity game. The others there were all taller, larger, or more muscular than I; some were recent high school grads, while high school was decades in the past for others. These were football players; I was not.
We gathered around Coach Martin Adams, who told us he was looking for players who work hard. This is a team he is assembling, and effort will be paramount. After the usual warm-up drills you see on any given football field, it was time to divvy up into positions. Risen noted that my height and weight could match a wide receiver or defensive back, but I tried most drills to get a full picture of the effort required. These drills may be varied, but they leave your talent displayed for all to see.
Oh, and do not walk. No matter how winded, you run: from drill to huddle, from huddle to sideline, from drill finish to drill start. Never. Ever. Walk.
You run in the 40-yard dash. My “40” times were 5.4 and 5.5 seconds, slower than desired for someone with my measurements, but not exactly plodding. Then came positional drills; I hit the turf to practice running deep to catch an interception, moving around a square dimension to test lateral and backwards agility, and cutting as a running back would do. The latter drill resulted in me literally hitting the AstroTurf as I lost my footing and scraped my knees to a nice shade of red. Yet, you get up and keep going.
Most of us returned for a second round of tryouts in January (while all players must try out each season, according to Risen, about 20 percent of the team will be composed of personnel attending these open sessions). Addressing the defense, Coach Adams told us that Christmas and New Year’s were over, and it was time to be serious. They wanted us speed scissor-stepping through a fabric ladder and finishing hard around a barrel; one of us did not, so down we went for 10 push-ups. You wanted to make the team? You cannot stop.
Following chalk talk to learn the Preds’ defensive schemes (as the offense did the opposite), we performed a final group exercise running the length of the field, with activities on each end … then did it again while not starting any activity until everyone was ready. This reinforced the sense of teamwork: You look out for your teammate, you work with them, and you defend them. I noted the end of each tryout day brought camaraderie among the players – people who may never have met before and may never meet again.
For some, a call came that January night saying they were cut. The ones with experience, hustle, coachable tendencies, and matching need are the ones Risen and company kept for meetings and practices before heading outdoors in March and to an actual game in late April.
For me? Risen said that my hustle and hard work were pluses; people lacking experience like me could start on special teams and build from there. I felt out of my league, but I had an idea of all that is necessary to make a career of football. You there on the couch? Commit to excellence, and perhaps you will make that tackle on TV.