ATHENS – The dog days of summer, those scorching hot days, coincide with the start of college football practice. Practices every day for a month, under that scorching sun, with players sweating it out in shoulder pads, helmets. And until this year the Georgia football team had two options: Practice anyway, or cancel practice.
Not anymore. The Bulldogs, the last football team in the SEC to get a full-length indoor facility are reaping the benefits of it this year, and did so Thursday. Rather than work outside a fourth straight day, Kirby Smart took the team inside the $30.2 million facility.
“It’s a pretty cool option,” linebacker Natrez Patrick said, in an unintentional double meaning. “Practice seemed to go smoother. Of course it wasn’t as hot. Everybody’s fresh. I didn’t get as winded, speaking personally. So that’s probably the effects of the indoors.”
For years, detractors downplayed the need for such a facility. It only rains a few days a year, it was said, and in those cases the Bulldogs often bussed 70 minutes away to Flower Branch, to use the Atlanta Falcons facility.
But for years other programs in the deep South have used their indoor facilities to take a break from the heat but to still hold a productive practice.
“That sun drains you,” Georgia senior linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “And then in camp there are late nights, early mornings, and constantly being in that sun kind of drains you. So I feel like being in the indoor, and not having that factor, allows guys to fly around a lot, and it also allows your body to recover.”
Bellamy pointed out that he didn’t see anybody cramping up on Thursday. That tends to happen more during outside practices, particularly in the heat.
“Everybody was flying around for the full duration of practice,” Bellamy said. “And I guess that’s the difference right there.”
Smart, who had the use of Alabama’s indoor facility during his near-decade there as defensive coordinator, has pointed out that going through very hot days for multiple days can have “a traumatic effect on the body.” The weather this week hasn’t been that bad, actually, around the mid-to-late 80s on Thursday. But tell players wearing pads and helmets that it was fine to go a fourth straight day outside.
“So to be able to come in here, save the players’ legs and still be able to do the things we need to do, it helps,” Smart said back in February, when the facility was dedicated.
When Georgia players use the facility, they work under large murals of past Georgia greats. One of the is David Pollack, now an ESPN analyst, who thinks his former team is going to benefit immensely this season from the facility.
“When you’re in the heat for 25 days, 30 days, 60 days in a row in this heat, it’s going to wear your body down. It’s fact. It’s 100 percent fact,” said Pollack, who didn’t have use of an indoor facility until he got to the NFL.
“Having an indoor facility now to go into, get out of the sun and keep the body from getting torched every day, that matters,” Pollack added. “Again, I know that’s not something that people want to hear, and think it’s excuses, but you go get your booty out there in that 100 degree heat and see what you’ve got every day. It’s a different animal.”