You can almost smell the college football regular season, it’s that close now. As a former player, August football camp at UCF was the best of times and quite possibly the worst of times. It was sometimes hard to decide which was worse: Spring conditioning or August camp in the Florida heat. I think almost universally we would say spring conditioning because at least football camp signaled that real football was about to begin.
Of course, players have it easier now. Three-a-day practices have long since been banned, with hopefully no more players suffering from heat exhaustion. Now, even the hint of rain brings the players inside the Nicholson Fieldhouse, if for no other reason than to remind the players how good they have it at UCF. Maybe they even entertain recruits during preseason football camp. Life is pretty good, even in the dreaded August Florida heat.
Safe to say, there are no more treks in full pads to the old practice fields behind the old Wayne Densch Center, the original UCF Football facility. Player safety is thankfully a priority now, with all the scientific strength and conditioning, player nutrition, and God only knows what else they do to maximize player performance these days.
For us, maximizing player performance in our day was surviving three 1-1⁄2 to 2-hour practices a day in sweltering August heat, torrential downpours (which were a most welcome relief), and the suffocating humidity that came afterward (most unwelcome!).
We practiced in everything but lightning. The coaches never messed with lightning, but we always suspected it was more for their safety and not ours. Practices were never canceled - just postponed. Our nutrition program was stuffing our faces on the free meal plan before, after, and between these daily battles with the elements. Joey Chestnut had nothing on even the lightweight eaters at the cafeteria tables.
Of course, this was all done to make us tougher than our competition. Football is a 60-minute grind, from whistle to whistle, after all. It was proven time after time on the field, seeing our opponents wilt in the Florida heat before halftime. We would rejoice when we saw 3 p.m. or Noon home games because we always knew our out-of-state visitors would be doing the exact opposite.
Visiting teams traveled to Florida as a reward for their players or for recruiting, not with a realistic vision that they could actually win. Only the toughest of teams would ever venture into Florida regularly to battle teams forged in the Florida heat.
I can still recall the suffocating day games at our old home, the Citrus Bowl. The heat beat our opponents more than we ever could. You could see the agony in their eyes as they lined up across from us. Their will to play on seemingly left their bodies with the steam coming off their uniforms. They would be bent over, gassed, with their hands on their hips, or cramping up because of dehydration, sometimes even before halftime. They just weren't built for it like UCF was back then.
Nowadays, UCF has a slightly different strategy to weaken the will of opponents. The Knights' nation-leading offense is designed to make opponents dizzy with fatigue:
With the emphasis on TV exposure now, UCF can no longer control game times to make opponents wilt, so they do it now with the pace of play. It would be nice if we could find a happy medium between player safety and keeping the August grind still somewhat daunting. Practicing in Florida heat helped build many champions after all.
So players at UCF have it a bit easier these days, but not too easy. That’s because January Glory is built on the August Grind. If UCF Football is to even come close to its undefeated National Championship season again, it must embrace that August Grind. Whether it be indoors or out, their ability to get to the same point in January, or perhaps further, will hinge on their ability to mentally prepare like a team coming off a winless season, not an undefeated one.
August, after all, is when the off-season questions are answered, and the Knights definitely have some to answer. UCF has more championships to win, make no mistake. But they aren't won in the packed domes in December or January. They are won on the brutal, humid, suffocating practice fields right now. It's a big part of what #BuiltByUCF really means. Let's not forget that as UCF chases perfection once more.