Fins to Win

Sam Chambers
The St. John’s Mavericks’ 2012 football schedule kicked off on August 17th, but the team’s preparation to be a contender in November began long ago.
Readiness for fall football starts long before the first “two-a-day” practice in early August.  In late July a dozen coaches sort boxes of gear: 186 knee pads, 178 pants, 175 hip pads, 162 thigh pads, 101 butt pads, 108 jerseys, 99 helmets, 91 shoulder pads, 84 laundry straps, 77 M Star helmet stickers, 44 black travel bags, 39 red travel bags, 19 footballs, 5 conventional, 5 platform, 4 soccer and 1 doughnut hole kicking tees--not including the middle school equipment.
The unlocking of the cages of gear signals that summer is over and football has officially begun for Head Coach Steve Gleaves.
“I know it’s football time when we bring out the equipment,” said Gleaves. “It is great to see all the coaches after a good summer break.”
Bruce Warren and Rueben Chavez, the dream team grounds crew, have been grooming the practice field since June. Before they paint the ten-yard stripes on the grass, they take one last look at the grass field of dreams. “Time to make it a football field,” said Bruce.
Coach Melvin Baker, who played for El Campo High and TSU, has seen his share of football fields. “I get goose bumps seeing Bruce cut the grass,” said Baker.
When Varsity Defensive Coach Jim Murphy ’83 smells cut grass he always thinks of his pigskin days. “I get that feeling of football when someone mows their lawn in the neighborhood,” said Jim, who also played four years at W&L.
Each practice calls for 120 gallons of drinking water, 150 lbs of ice, and 12 gallons of Gatorade. Practice sessions go from 9-11 in the morning and 5-8 in the evening. Following the new UIL practice rules, two-a-day practices cannot be sequential. Players cannot practice in full pads 2 times a day on consecutive days. Film, fitness, and walk-through sessions replace the contact sessions on the gap days.
Regardless of the format, the grind on the gridiron is not something to take lightly—neither by players sporting Riddell cleats back in the day, or by present-day players donning Nike from head to toe. The football experience lasts a lifetime.
For Coach George Turley, it’s the dew on the ground that takes him back to his high school football days in Birmingham, Alabama. “They had a dew-knocker, a board which cleared the dew off the grass,” said Turley. “That was for the Varsity. I was on JV and started each practice on a wet field.”
“If it was easy, everyone would be out here,” said Head JV Coach Dan Muschalik. “Football is hard work, but it will give back what you put in.”

Douglas Berkman ’12, headed to be a Longhorn in Austin, already feels the void of not having football in his life this fall. “There is nothing like going through the summer practices with your best friends and teammates,” said Berky. “That’s when the team really starts to come together. I’d tell anyone who’s just starting out that the first year is the hardest, but if they stick it out they will be rewarded.”
Berkman worked his way up from the “Deuce” (JV2) and the JV1 teams to make Varsity his Junior season. He was a starting captain last year.
“The hardest part is getting going,” said Coach Murphy. “Once you get past the first 15 minutes your body and mind get in a groove.”
“When I went to be a counselor at Camp Longhorn, I knew I had a month to get ready for the August Houston heat,” said Joe Herman ’04.   “I followed Lyon Forage’s ’04 Hill Country running routine.”
“After the 4th of July, I let go of the previous year and begin to process what’s next for football, and who will be playing where,” said Coach Stobie Whitmore ’68. “When stripes show up on the cut grass, that’s when I know football is here.”
Other alarms signal the start of football. “For me it is the advertising of Shark Week, which starts on Sunday,” said #55, Eric Hobby ’13. “I better be ready for the heat when the sharks show up on the screen.” #44, Nathan Avery ’13 is also a big fan of the shark show celebrating its 25th season.  Both seniors began to take a shine to the Selachii species after observing the enthusiasm of their wrestling and football coach, Alan Paul.
Coach Paul, known to swim with reef and tip sharks, still has not been face to face with his most feared fish, the tiger shark. “They look mean with those stripes. One day I will test myself in the presence of the beast, but for now, football is more than enough to get the juices flowing.”
One of the strongest swimmers, tiger sharks move at a deceptively slow pace, wasting no energy until they make their initial move on their target. With an underbelly that is more camouflaged at night, they surprise their prey with a burst of speed for the finishing hit.
As the Mavericks get ready to bite off a new season this Friday against Northland Christian, Skip Lee Field is cut, striped and free of dew. The prep work of August should allow the players to sink their teeth into the opposition throughout September, hopefully grab in a SPC playoff clincher in October, and finish the season with a big hit in November.   Shark week is here, football 2012 has begun, and memories to last a lifetime are there for the making and taking.

Sam Chambers - Athletic News