This summer camp no fun

Saturday, July 25, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rookie cornerback Artrell Hawkins cools off during the first practice of training camp Friday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Artrell Hawkins travels light to training camp. Just a radio to break the monotony and a Bible to help him through the heat.

The Cincinnati Bengals' rookie cornerback regards his shot at pro football with equal parts excitement and dread. He has been through too many training camps at the University of Cincinnati to expect it to be easy anywhere else.

"Training camp is one of the hardest things I ever have to go through," Hawkins said. "I'm praying all day long. I probably have 100 conversations with God a day."

Hawkins and his maker might talk more, but there isn't time. Training camp is the annual event when wealthy, grown men -- overgrown men in most cases -- get a sense for sweatshop conditions. Their days consist almost entirely of practice, meetings, meals and recuperation.

"We get paid an awful lot of money to do this job," said Willie Anderson, the offensive tackle. "They get their money's worth in training camp. I don't bring a TV because I don't want to know anything about the outside world. You see someone on TV doing something and you know you can't be part of it."

It's not prison, exactly, but then prisoners are rarely required to perform grass drills or wind sprints at the whim of some guy with a whistle. The essence of training camp is a couple of colossal crash dummies providing collisions on command while carrying 30 pounds of equipment under an unyielding sun. It is the price football players pay for Sunday afternoons in the spotlight.

Puttin' on the pads

The Bengals put on their pads for the first time Friday at Georgetown College, and though a benign breeze blew, there was hardly a dry shirt in the house. Bengals equipment manager Tom Gray estimates that perspiration adds five pounds to each uniform by the end of a practice.

"And they smell," he said, "like goats."

Today, the Bengals will practice twice, effectively doubling their olfactory offenses and testings the stamina of most finely tuned athletes. Among the reasons offensive linemen remain anonymous is that they're too tired to express much more than exhaustion when cornered by the mini-cams.

"I saw where Steve DeBerg said, "I love this training camp atmosphere,' " Anderson said. "I said, "Yeah, but you're a quarterback. They're not doing the one-on-one thing with Big Daddy (Wilkinson) or (John) Copeland. The only good thing about training camp is it gets you back to that football feeling."

The idea is to focus the mind on the season ahead and to condition the body for protracted punishment. Modern coaches generally demand less contact work than did some of their predecessors, but this is probably more attributable to roster restrictions than a decline in sadism.

"I think it has to be hard enough to toughen your team but not to the extent you get physically tired," said Bengals coach Bruce Coslet. "That leads to injuries. I want it to be not grueling, but rigorous."

'Why am I out here?'

Coslet's camp is decidedly more rigorous than was Dave Shula's, but with only four two-a-days scheduled it is not nearly as demanding as some of his players experienced in college. Hawkins remembers three-a-day workouts for UC coach Rick Minter -- two regular practices plus a 7 a.m. session for special teams. Cornerback Corey Sawyer recalls tortuous summers at Florida State when a water break was like a reprieve from the rack.

"Sometimes I'd ask myself, "Why am I out here?' " Sawyer said.

Wide receiver Carl Pickens said Thursday's conditioning tests were enough to make him want to change jobs. But lacking an alternative that would pay him close to $3 million a year, Pickens was back Friday.

"We know it's physical, and we know we have to be in shape, but we'll get through this," he said. "They're not going to kill us." Of course not. Murder would be too merciful.

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