Bobby Pope

Preseason camps were, at one time, key to football teams’ success

With high school football teams starting practice for the upcoming season, it got me to thinking about preseason camps.

Those camps probably are not as common today because of the early school start dates, but there was a time when teams would pack up their gear, board a “yellowhound” and head off to some remote location where players were totally immersed in football for a week.

Jekyll Island was the destination for Willingham when Billy Henderson coached the Rams back in the 1960s. The squad always stayed at the Wanderer Beach Hotel, four to a room, and practiced at least twice per day in the grass and sand. The format was basically the same every year,: individual drills in the morning with scrimmages in the afternoon and chalk talks and lectures in between. As one of Henderson’s former players said, “He tried to killed us.”

Players could drink all the water they wanted before and after practice but not during workouts because that was a perceived sign of weakness. Thank goodness we have come a long ways since those days. The GHSA has established a practice policy for heat and humidity that goes into effect for the 2012 school year. Georgia had two high school players to die as a result of heat related problems last year.

Robert Davis took his Warner Robins teams to South Georgia College in Douglas, and when he took over at Westside the, Seminoles went to Jekyll Island’s 4-H camps. Davis says those camps were key to his success at both schools. He said that the week was important for team building as his players established relationships and became close friends.

Conditioning was a big factor in the camps, and practices in the hot sun prepared them for the early part of the season when they were in better shape than their opponents. Davis says that he and his coaches were very conscious of the heat problems during the camps, and he can recall only one player in 44 years who had any health related issues.

From a personal preseason camp experience, at Robert E. Lee in Thomaston, we took to the north Georgia Mountains in the Nacooche Valley in White County. The camp was owned by a lady named Mrs. Tenious. To say the least, the accommodations were rustic at best. While the Willingham teams stayed at the Wanderer and Warner Robins in the South Georgia College dorms, we bunked in the loft of a barn with livestock below or one of several old mountain side cabins. Our head coach, the late Jim Cavan, and his loyal assistant Clint McAbee stayed in a tree house. There was no thought of air conditioning in those facilities.

We practiced in a cow pasture, and you had to be careful where he stepped because cow patties were in abundance. All the players used the same bathing facilities, the Chattahoochee River. And you got to see an outhouse up close and personal. While football was basically 24/7 with at least two practices per day and lectures and chalk talks, Coach Cavan always provided us with a 16-millimeter film, the same one every year during my four years to camp -- “Winchester 73,” starring James Stewart, Dan Duryea and Shelly Winters.

The 1961 camp in the mountains turned out to be the best of them all as that team went on to win the North Georgia AAA championship before losing to Valdosta in the state title game. To give you an idea of how talented that squad was, 15 of the 31 players signed college football scholarships at schools that included Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson and South Carolina.

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