Vince Lombardi said many things, and not a football coach alive doesn’t prescribe to the essence behind his words, whether talking about the Green Bay Packers’ coach or how he coaches his own team.
Something Lombardi said always stuck with me, and after a few minutes talking with Ridgefield High School football coach Kevin Callahan, it’s something I believe he subscribes to, as well.
Lombardi said: "The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.’’
Well, maybe not just anything, because even the Packers didn’t win every season, but there’s no chance of success without the hours.
That’s why many of Ridgefield’s players this fall are willing to sacrifice parts of their summer spending those hours on the practice field, when they could be sleeping in, swimming or doing any of the dozens of other things teenagers do when they don’t have to worry about homework.
The first Tuesday after the Fourth of July, Callahan and his coaches will begin his off-season conditioning program in preparation for the 2011 season. Kickoff against Greenwich is Sept. 16, but Callahan is already gearing for it, perhaps to the point of whether he’ll call heads or tails on the coin flip.
No longer do teams break out the balls and tackling dummies a couple of weeks before school begins in September.
"It’s not that way anymore,’’ Callahan said. "We’re working almost year-round. If you’re a football-only kid, we’ll keep you busy.’’
The State of Connecticut allows for an extensive off-season conditioning program, but "we can’t be out there with a ball.’’
Callahan knows most of his players will be there.
"There are some students who don’t take advantage of the program,’’ Callahan said. "But, they know they’ll be behind later.’’
That first Tuesday will start at 6:25 a.m. and includes running, sprinting, stretching, pushups, crunches and other well-known football conditioning drills.
There’s more of the same on Thursdays.
The weight room is open Monday through Thursday during the off-season, and after the weights there are agility drills. Those include tackling dummies and blocking sleds.
Just no balls or running plays.
Daily practices start in August but without pads. It’s all about conditioning during this time. The first day of official practice begins Aug. 18. By this time, Callahan expects his team to be in shape. Nearly a month later, they’ll be in real game shape.
Every summer you read of players collapsing on the field because of the heat, and it’s a real problem at the high school and college levels. It has even occurred on the professional level, such as with Minnesota’s Korey Stringer, who died of a heat stroke in 2001.
All precautions are taken, said Callahan.
Each player must have a physical before he can be on the field, with the report filed with the school system. Ridgefield High School employs a fulltime trainer. The coaches have training in CPR. One of the coaches, Peter McLean, specializes in conditioning and once was employed by the New York Jets in that capacity.
Then there’s the water.
"We preach to them to stay hydrated,’’ Callahan said, and that includes starting drinking fluids about 48 hours before the first practice.
Water is not withheld as a punishment. It is also not a reward. It is plentiful and readily available.
"They can get water any time they need it,’’ Callahan said. "And we have five built-in water breaks.’’
Callahan also recommends his players bring with them a gallon water jug to practice.
Although they can’t run plays or have balls available in drills, there’s more preparation than just sweating. Ridgefield subscribes to The Huddle, which is a program where the team and its opponents download game films which are available to each player from any computer. All that’s needed is a user name and a password.
And, Callahan knows who’s studying and who isn’t.
"It’s monitored and we know how long they are on for,’’ Callahan said.
Plus, he’s always available to meet individually with players on their specific assignments and review film. It’s time consuming and it's hard work, Callahan says, but there’s no chance of success without it.
Lombardi would agree.