Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Longest Day of the Year

“ATTACK THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE, attack the line of scrimmage, attack the line of scrimmage,” the voice of Head Coach Kevin Kelly cuts through the static morning air, shock treatment for the slow riser. “They’re gonna attack your ass, and if you’re scared, I’m leaving you at home!”

It is Tuesday, 7:30 a.m., and most Georgetown students are still heavy in a dreamless sleep. They will remain in their comfy state for hours, until alarms ring, clang or buzz, causing them to yawn, stretch and groan, wondering whether or not to get up for that 11:15 a.m. class.

But that’s hours in the future. The focus is on the now: for this is where it begins-here in the damp and cold of November daybreak, against a slate gray sky – this is where the preparation begins for the members of the Georgetown football team, who yearn for the chimes of a CVS alarm clock after the rude awakening their coach has just given them.

But this isn’t where starts. It is already the second chapter of what will be an anthology of meetings, classes, practices, tapings, weight-lifting sessions and study halls – a mere episode in the exhausting day in the life of Hoya football.

A Pre-Dawn Matinee

The real beginning is here: underground, down a dark corridor of the Bunn Intercultural Center. It’s 6:45 a.m., and the halls are devoid of commotion, save for the thin stream of sleepy-eyed young men shuffling lethargically into the meeting room. They silently take their seats, hardly acknowledging one another, rubbing the sleep from their eyes as Kelly begins to speak.

“Welcome back,” Kelly says to his men as Assistant Head Coach Rob Sgarlata fiddles with the game film he has prepared on his laptop. “We got to build on our momentum from last week. They’re 4-5, but they haven’t won a home game. If we hit them in the mouth, their confidence will go way down.”

Everyone knows exactly of whom Kelly speaks, thanks to the defensive game plan packets circulating from desk to desk. The 50-page notebooks are thick with every different set, play and formation that the Lafayette Leopards have run or lined up in over the course of their nine-game season. As the lights shut off and the film begins to run, Kelly begins to speak in tongues.

“When they show this, we’re going to run lightning out of the clamp from the liz side,” Kelly says in the language of Xs and Os. “Crafty, you and Tandyman are coming on the bandit.” Kelly addresses junior rover Darren Craft and senior safety Brian Tandy with nicknames, as if they were his old buddies. Craft and Tandy say nothing in return, nor do any of the players, who silently watch their future adversary in the soundless video images before them. Twenty minutes pass. The lights come up. “Let’s go,” Kelly says, not bothering to mention a destination. The players rise and exit the room in a single-file line, gray hoodies pulled over their heads, shielding themselves from the slow drizzle of the chilly morning, matching the dullness of the dreary sky.

The silent procession continues onto the turf of the Multi-Sport Facility, where they line up in the formations that just flickered across the projector screen. Kelly moves the tired boys like pawns on a green chessboard, barking instructions on how to line up and how to react in certain situations. Kelly’s voice remains relatively quiet despite its authoritative tone, as if he is afraid of waking the sleeping residents of the nearby Southwest Quad. Soon the Healy Tower bells toll eight times, and the team gathers for a quick huddle before heading in separate directions for the morning.

“I am so tired,” junior linebacker Mike Greene mutters, yawning as he heads to O’Donovan Hall. “What I wouldn’t do for some more energy right now.”

Thanks to their early rising, the Hoyas have the dining hall breakfast spread to themselves, and they take full advantage of it. The buffet seems to breathe life into the Hoyas, who begin to speak for the first time all morning. Sophomore receiver Kenny Mitchell and freshman defensive back Willie Bodrick discuss high school football back home in Atlanta over giant gobs of cheese grits while senior safety Brian Tandy and sophomore offensive lineman Jerry Batchelder weigh the dangers of Alaskan crab fishing while inhaling French toast. More than anything, the teammates discuss their fatigue during their brief reprieve for nourishment.

“These 6:45 mornings kill me, man,” junior receiver Kyle Van Fleet says as the breakfast club disintegrates to go to class. Tandy is the last to leave, sighing deeply as he rises from the table. “Back to the real world,” he says.

The morning schedule of classes gives the football players a chance to separate themselves from the sport and enter the mainstream of the student body on campus, but it is also a daily struggle to stay caught up and remain awake.

“I’m pretty sure I could be an astronaut if I had more time to study,” junior linebacker Darren Alberti says with a wry smile. “I could be valedictorian,” adds junior linebacker John Lancaster. “I wish our teachers knew how hard this is for us. You never have the time.”

While professors may not take exception to the rigorous schedule football demands, the men who employ it certainly know how hard the players work.

“I try and keep them up, because I know they get worn thin,” says first-year assistant coach Kevin Gilbride, who as the youngest member of the coaching staff, serves as a big-brother figure to many of the players. “As long as I can tell that they are trying hard, there is no point in not cutting them some slack,” he says.

Gilbride, whose father, Kevin Gilbride Sr., is the New York Giants’ quarterback coach, does not snap at players when they doze during film study and even lets them out a few minutes early, knowing that each minute of free time is precious.

A former college quarterback, Gilbride understands that the fine line between orderly discipline and insane punishment can be the difference between wins and losses, between loyalty and mutiny.

“No hats in the special teams meeting,” Assistant Coach Luke Thompson snaps, ruining my attempt at an inconspicuous entrance into the small office cramped with massive bodies. It’s 3:15 p.m., and it’s time for another round of meetings and film sessions in McDonough Gymnasium. The players once again fall silent as the tape runs and the coaches take turns issuing warnings, sage advice from men who have spent their lives between the hash marks.

“They are going to try and set you up for a kill shot,” tight ends coach Gilbride forewarns of the savage strategy of the Lafayette kickoff teams. “You can’t think about that though – just fly down the field and don’t stay blocked.”

The quicksilver moves of Leopards sophomore punt returner Shaun Adair draws oohs, ahs, and the occasional “whoa damn” from the crowd, but the highlight reel is short. Now the time has come to find out how to stop it.

“Let’s be fast today – I don’t give a shit that it’s raining,” Sgarlata says as the players adjust their pads and lace up their cleats. “We’re lucky its 50 [degrees] and raining – it could be 30 and sleeting.”

Sunny Texas native Derek Franks cringes at the thought.

“That’d be real bad,” he says.

Dog Day Afternoon

“Waaaaassssuuupp Caaann-jo?” sophomore quarterback Ben Hostetler asks of fellow backup signal caller Nick Cangelosi as the two warm up. The mood is light among the quarterbacks, despite the sprinkle of steady rain and the prospect of the daunting test ahead. As they throw, veteran Cangelosi offers up advice on any subject to anyone willing to lend an ear.

“I’m telling you, man, you can do anything with a government major,” he tells sophomore Brad Hartung. “And this guy, this guy’s the man – he’s just a freshman and the girls love him,” he says throwing a tight spiral in the direction of first year running back Robert Lane. “He reminds me of Tom Cruise in `All the Right oves.'”

Cangelosi’s expertise has no place among the offensive lineman, who roll, punch and grunt their way through a set of demanding drills with assistant coach Brad Dunlay.

“Chutes. Absolutely the worst part of practice,” freshman center Dan Matheny explains. “They are what make us better though.” While the linemen toil arduously in hopes of protecting the quarterback, the linebackers practice their savage assault on him with a fervor bordering on the maniacal. Bodies and expletives fly through the air as Kelly leads junior linebacker ike Greene and senior linebacker Chris Paulus in a kamikaze run of break-neck blitzes.

“Kill the guy with the ball,” Kelly yells fanatically. “It’s as simple as that!”

The pace of practice moves fast, the blare of the scoreboard horn replacing the tower bells of the quiet morning ushering in the next phase of preparation. The sun sinks in the sky, and the hum of the generators brought in to replace it hum mechanically. The team congregates at mid-field for a full-team scrimmage.

“Y’all ready for us?” Franks asks Mitchell and his offensive mates as he goes airborne to high-five fellow senior Alex Buzbee. “You better be ready for us!” The starting lineups test each other in a high-intensity play script, two old sparring partners training for the prizefight. While the starters joust on the field, the backups jest on the nearby sideline. Cangelosi keeps a constant feed of chatter in his thick New Jersey accent, calling out teammates and imitating coaches.

“We joke around to keep each other loose – we’ve had a hard time this season,” the former North Carolina Tarheel says. “Joking around keeps the frustrations down.”

Cangelosi is but one of a cast of characters on the sideline, the leader of a band of merry men who remain chipper despite the harsh reality that the time they put into practice and training won’t necessarily equate to snaps and touches. There’s Thomas “Daddy” Hutton, a sophomore offensive lineman who refuses to respond to any other moniker besides his nickname.

There’s second year quarterback Gunner Coil, whose droopy eyes and five o’clock shadow are the butt of several teammates’ jokes. There’s sophomore signal caller Brad Hartung, who can’t help but laugh at himself as he hobbles around on crutches while still suited in full uniform. All three were up at 6 a.m., and all three will lift weights after practice, but none of them will even make the trip to Easton for Saturday’s game. For players such as Hutton, Hartung and Coil, playing college football isn’t about making the bone-crushing hit or scoring the winning touchdown. It’s about the bonds formed in the shadows of the grandstands, far away from the spotlight.

“The team chemistry out here is great,” says Hutton, who spurned an offer from Kansas to play at Georgetown. “This is like a fraternity.”

I run the sprints with the team at the conclusion of practice and gasp to catch my breath as Kelly briefly addresses his exhausted troops to conclude the workout.

“How you feeling?” Kelly asks as he heads to his office. “Long day, isn’t it? Just starting for me – I’m going to go grade practice film.”

With that, he jogs off into the night, still as energetic as when he opened the door to morning meetings over 12 hours before.

Bonding and Bench Press

“Come over here, I want to talk to you.”

The brusque voice is that of sophomore wide receiver Sidney Baker, who holds court from the back corner of the Yates varsity weight room. Alberti, Lancaster and a handful of other players hurry through reps of squats in uniform sweat suits, Baker lounges on a weight bench, and Hostetler does his best LeBron James, dunking on a nearby basketball hoop. “I just want you to know, we’re going to bring our `A’ game this week,” Baker says. “Our homecoming win jelled us together, and now we fixing to capitalize.”

Baker briefly toys with a dumbbell, then continues,. “You got to think that, ’cause if you don’t, no one else will. The cream of the crop always rises to the top,” Baker declares, sensing the audience forming around him. Teammates chuckle at Baker’s brash nature, another welcome bit of comic relief. The weight room is another breeding ground for team camaraderie, a place far from the watchful eye of coaches, where Baker, Hostetler and the rest feel free to joke and jab.

“Make sure you write down that I was benching 315,” Hostetler says, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

It is nearly 9 p.m. by the time Alberti showers, changes, and heads to O’Donovan Hall for late night. The laid-back Californian has just enough time to wolf down two hamburgers before heading to the library to open his books and close the final chapter of busy day. He pulls his hood over his ears, bracing against the wind whipping down the steep hill. With hours of studying ahead of him tonight and another early meeting waiting in the morning, it sometimes seems as if he and his teammates are constantly battling a headwind in their ascent from the bottom of the Patriot League.

“It never stops, man,” Alberti says, pausing before heading under the fluorescent lights of Lauinger. “But that’s what it takes for love of the game.”

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