PULLMAN – It’s a time-honored tradition. Just say “two-a-days” and every kid who’s pulled on shoulder pads knows what you’re talking about.
Two practices in one day, sweating through the summer heat, building a fitness base for the long season to come. Heck, talk to real old-timers and they’ll reminisce about three-a-days, or four-a-days, glossing over or conveniently forgetting the sweat, pain and bruises.
This year’s Washington State University football team had its first chance to build memories Friday, putting in a full-pad practice in the morning and a slightly less-strenuous workout in the afternoon.
The tradition has been limited somewhat over the years by the NCAA, which allows only five two-a-day workouts prior to the first game, and none on back-to-back days.
So are two-a-days still viable?
WSU coach Paul Wulff thinks so. In fact, he thinks some of the limits have had a detrimental effect.
“That just continues to kind of follow our society, and that is to get softer all the time,” Wulff said. “It challenges you mentally to get up, come out and prepare twice a day.”
Wulff admits the old ways might not have been best, but says you can’t limit the practice too much, because “we want to do what’s best for the body, but you also want to train that mind, too.”
While Wulff emphasized the mental aspect, his players also saw the grinding workouts as another in a series of team-building exercises.
“You get reps with guys you are going to play with,” senior offensive lineman Micah Hannam said, sweat dripping from his shirt. “You build chemistry with the guys you’re going to play with, and that’s super important.”
The chemistry lesson started in the morning, with a practice that highlighted the running game and the offensive line working as a unit.
Hannam admits he hates two-a-days but, like each of three teammates polled, would allow the practice to continue if he were in charge of college football.
“I would say keep them, because I wouldn’t really like a longer preseason,” he said. “So, let’s get them done and get them over with, as much as I may dislike them.”
The day was just long enough for the offense, as it ended on a high note when Jeff Tuel found Jeffrey Solomon behind the defense for a 38-yard touchdown strike, ending a contentious 2-minute drill.
The scoring strike, coming as it did after 31/2 hours of practice, illustrated a point.
“It’s a way to test your team mentally, see where they’re at,” safety Tyree Toomer said. “You can’t just walk through it, go through the motions, or you’re not going to get any better. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or hot. You have to fight through it, because game situations are just like it.”
It’s that grinding element that sways Toomer.
“It brings you together as a team,” he said. “Everybody’s grinding and everybody’s trying to push through, coaches included. It’s tough for everybody but you can watch the team grow.”
And that’s the point.
“Obviously it’s tough on a lot of us, but that’s one of the reasons we do it,” said slot receiver Gino Simone, who tweaked a hamstring late in the day. “You’ve got to be ready to go in tough situations. On Saturday afternoons, there are going to be a lot of tough situations we’ve got to be ready for.
“Two-a-days give us chance to not only work on a lot of fundamentals but to also face adversity.”
Myron Beck spent his birthday on the field Friday, his day extended because it was the linebackers’ turn for post-practice lifting. Still, he wouldn’t change the practice at all.
“I love two-a-days,” Beck said. “Not only do you get work, it’s tradition. You hear, back in the day, guys were working extra hard in two-a-days. Now they’re getting soft on us and don’t let us practice twice a day back to back.”
The Cougars will hold their first scrimmage of the fall at Martin Stadium this afternoon. They are expected to face off for about an hour, with the team hitting the field for stretching at 2 p.m. It is open to the public.