“Ready, feet, hit!”
When I played at Florida State under Bobby Bowden, this phrase was on repeat in my head for three years as we moved from getting acclimated to our spring semester classes into the meat of our offseason conditioning program. “Mat drills” are what made you a Seminole during that time and everything was graded, from effort to skill to attitude. Every school had its variation of mat drills, but I’m standing behind the statement that FSU’s were the standard.
How hard were mat drills? Let me put it to you this way: I figured out a way to get rid of all the distractions in my life, including my high school sweetheart, and I found God – white Jesus, black Jesus and Hispanic Jesus. I saw all of them as I was prone on the floor after my first day of mat drills, throwing up and contemplating just how much I wanted to play football.
The layout of mat drills is simple. There were three 18-minute periods of speed, agility and endurance drills that are meant to be done perfectly and as a unit. Mat drills started at 5:45 a.m. during the coldest time of the year in Tallahassee (February) and my time was done inside Tully Gym. Each player had an assigned seat and players were to be seated, Indian-style, promptly at 5:45. Players started their stretch at 5:45 and don’t be late; if you were going to be late, better off just to miss it because the punishment was the same.
The groups were split up between “Bigs” (linemen), “Big skill” (quarterbacks, linebackers, tight ends) and “Skill” (defensive backs, wide receiver, running backs), and each segment was divided into groups of four. The row you were in was determined by the score you received in the previous mat drill; each section is graded from 0 to 4. Don’t get a zero; you might as well not show up, as the punishment is the same.
Fours are the standard – that’s championship-level effort. The rows also were chosen based upon what you did the previous season – were you in the coaches’ doghouse, did you miss class, etc., etc. Let’s just say you didn’t want to be in the last row.
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