Tailgating nothing compared to players' load

Joe Worthem

Former Ole Miss strength and conditioning coach Jason Wilfawn put Sonia Thompson through a workout.

It’s nearly the end of football season -- Saturday was the second to last Ole Miss home game. After three weeks off, I was having a hard time finding the motivation to tailgate again. It’s like my friend Sally once said, “We usually do a big spread for the first home game. But it kind of dwindles each weekend and by November, we’re eating Doritos out of the bag.”

Since that’s exactly how I felt -- like I could barely manage the Herculean task of fixing sandwiches and then eating them outside -- I couldn’t begin to imagine mustering the strength to actually, you know, play football. I decided it was time for a gut check, in more ways than one.

The gym I go to in Oxford, Peak Performance Specialists, is owned by Jason Wilfawn, who, before he opened his own place, was the strength and conditioning coach for the Rebels. I asked Jason if he would put me through a typical football workout so I could better understand what it feels like to be a college athlete. I think at first he thought I was kidding (he’s seen my performance during our regular workout sessions, and well, let’s just say I don’t think he has anyone coming to scout me). But he agreed.

Courtesy of Sonia Thompson

Sonia Thompson was feeling ambivalent about late-season tailgates, so she put herself in the players' shoes with a workout typical of the Ole Miss team.

I pictured Tim Tebow doing one-armed pushups and swinging a sledgehammer. It made me nervous. “Nervous is a good thing, that means it is important to you! That's what I tell my athletes,” Jason emailed me.

I arrived for the first part of the workout, which was split up into two days so I wouldn’t die. Day One was running drills focusing on acceleration. I roped my friend Lena into coming with me for morale. We started the warm-up. Five minutes of jogging, followed by high knees, running backwards, lunges, holding plank, hopping on one foot and some ab work. I was winded. We started getting loose, and one awkward leg stretch reminded Lena of a “Dirty Dancing” move. But other than quoting chick-flicks, we stayed focused.

We did A-skip and A-run drills, designed to break down our running and help us stay light on our feet by getting off the ground quickly. Jason told us to focus on our posture, and keep our feet under our bodies, rather than out front. Of course I’ve run before, but I’ve never really thought about what my body was doing. It was a lot to remember, all while doing it quickly and correctly. I tried to imagine doing those things in a game where someone was trying to tackle me.

We ended the day with shuttles sprints for conditioning. The goal was to run 300 yards in 70 seconds, rest for three minutes and do it again in 70 seconds. That’s the time big offensive linemen are expected to meet. My times were 123 seconds and 121 seconds. Not even close.

The second day was strength training. My first task was a dumbbell complex combined with jumps onto a tire, which Jason said was help with my “work-capacity and flexibility.” I don’t know if it accomplished those things, but it did make me tired and sweaty. After that, we did dumbbell shoulder presses for upper body strength movement. Then it was on to a total body circuit of pushups, pull-ups and body weight squats designed to build strength, conditioning, burn body fat and help stimulate muscle growth. I was supposed to do three rounds, but Jason took pity on me.

“I think you’ll be good with just two,” he said.

In the end, it was hard -- really hard -- but I survived. I suspected my workout probably paled in comparison to what actual players do everyday, and Jason admitted he trained me like a redshirt. But it still gave me a new appreciation for how hard it is to be great at something.

I woke in pain Saturday. I was too sore to tailgate; I watched the game from my couch.