By Andre Carter
Even though I am far from a novelist, Jake Russell asked me if I could discuss my experiences of training camp and leading up to week one of the preseason. I told him to get a life but said “sure.” So here it goes.
For those that think training camp is fun, take your fist and hit yourself right in the eye socket.
Okay, all jokes aside, a week before camp starts there is a level of adrenaline flowing freely though the veins. It’s always great reuniting with old and new teammates and creating a high level of brotherhood for one common goal. Each individual player has a mindset to be the best at his position on the team as well as the league. The youngsters arriving are trying to make a name for themselves to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The vets have one common goal: maintain their level of employment and achieve longevity. In all my 13 years of experience, I had seen everything from the hardships of training camp, injuries and misunderstood decisions made from headquarters in which a player deserved to be on the roster.
The hardships of camp are predicated on three factors: mental, physical and emotional.
I have experienced 12 training camps throughout my career. Honestly they were all a blur. I lived by my personal code of camp which is “don’t think about it.” My dad [former NFL player and coach Rubin Carter] always had this old school saying to me when it came to challenges I faced. He told me, “Son, it’s mind over matter. If you don’t have no mind, then it doesn’t matter.” There is plenty of truth to that. Weeks of grinding through two-a-days, the soreness, the lack of players in a position and having to take more reps was part of game. Yet, I was a firm believer in the strong will to survive. I constantly pushed myself though my inner will and encouragement from my teammates. I enjoyed the level of brotherhood each and every day though camp.
I think the physical and mental aspects of camp have similarities and differences. I jokingly laugh telling my teammates we prepare our bodies for training camp and for the season so it can be messed up. There is no question, you have to be in the best shape possible for camp. Strength, conditioning and flexibility gave me longevity. If you are stiff and not mobile, good luck. Now the body had moments where it would talk to me saying “you better calm this crap down.” That’s when you have to just push yourself. One step at a time, one play at a time. I never stopped my feet.
Emotional factors of camp entail the men you play with. Young or old you have sympathy for your teammates. Whether it’s injures, lack of reps for a player that had potential or just in a ticked off mood because practice isn’t going the way you want that day. Camp is a grind but then again that’s how it’s suppose to be.
Let’s go back in time to training camp 2006 in Ashburn, Va. My sunny days in California did not prepare me for the grueling moments I was about to embark on with Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams. I played for an old school coach at Cal from 1998-2000 but this was a whole different level. During day one in pads the first defensive team drill consisted of 40 up-downs before practice started in humid and muggy 100-degree weather. Ten up-downs in I was feeling good. Twenty up-downs in the walls started closing. Thirty up-downs in I looked like I was an old school Cadillac on hydraulics. My legs were gone, I wasn’t popping up and my upper body didn’t muster enough energy to move. Phil Daniels and Marcus Washington still give me a hard time about that day. During training camp in 2007 I nailed it and did all 40 but that’s another story. After that drill was Gregg Williams’ favorite exercise, called “catch a cone.” Five players are in the middle of the field on the 20-yard line, and on the sidelines of the 30, 40, 50 and 40-yard lines are cones. After we do three up downs once the whistle is blown, we pop up, coach gives a direction and we had to get a cone. “This is a sprint!,” yelled all the coaches. If a player is unsuccessful he has to do more up-downs. I ran my heart out every time we did that drill.
I could continue with all the drill and team periods we did for camp but overall it was a moment I will never forget. I enjoyed Coach Gibbs and Coach Williams because they pushed me to another level that I never though was possible. Before I signed with the Redskins I had considered myself a workhorse. My teammates and coaches in Ashburn had pushed me to a whole different level. It was the NFC East after all — the battle of the heavyweight fighters. So in retrospect, we had to be tough.
Finally after a week in of constant hitting day after day it was game week of the preseason. The opportunity to hit someone different and see where your skills are. Preparing for the game is limited. Teams are still in “camp mode” so we are still doing the same drills to perfect our craft. From my experience, teams have limited play calling during the first preseason. In most cases, the vets or starters see little action. Maybe six to nine plays. I honestly hated that because I’m building up throughout the week as if I’m playing for a whole game. It’s like I’m a dog that wants that big treat but the owner just gives you a small taste. I guess there’s a time and place for everything. After the starters are done we watch the young bucks get dirty for three quarters. It’s entertaining but if there are a lot of rookie mistakes and penalties the game can take forever to end. Once the whistle blows we head to the locker room, and rest for 48 hours and prepare for another day at camp.
Follow Andre on Twitter @mr_carter93.