ORONO — Friday was yet another hot day in this unusually humid summer. Dew points that measure humidity have been soaring.
But that didn’t stop the University of Maine’s football team from wearing full pads for the first time this season, after previously practicing in shoulder pads and shorts.
The first day of practice was Wednesday.
For UMaine head athletic trainer Ryan Taylor, Black Bear head football coach Joe Harasymiak and UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley, making sure their players are properly hydrated and safe is their top priority.
“Heat and humidity are stressors and every athlete responds differently to stressors,” Atherley said. “You can’t just be mindful of the weather, the conditions, the humidity and the heat index, because you’re also playing on (artificial) turf and that’s a 10-degree difference in temperature (from natural grass).”
Both teams play on artificial turf which is a hotter surface than grass.
“At the end of the day, you have to be smart, observant and careful,” Atherley said. “On hot, humid days, we take longer water breaks and more frequent breaks.”
He also said he will alter his practice schedule based on heat and humidity.
For example, on blistering hot days, Atherley said he “won’t do a lot of conditioning. We’ll work on restarts because they aren’t as physically challenging. We don’t want to put our athletes at risk.”
Restarts are corner kicks, free kicks and long throw-ins which don’t require nearly as much running as conditioning drills or scrimmaging.
“We’ll cut down (repetitions) and we’ll also give designated water breaks throughout practice (on sweltering days),” Harasymiak said. “It definitely changes (our practice regimen). Ryan (Taylor) and I meet in the morning at 7 and go over the kind of day we have and what it’s looking like (weather-wise). We actually try to stay out of the sun all morning. We’re in the (Mahaney) Dome for our (pre-practice) walk-through.”
“We had 21 periods for practice (Friday) and each period was 4½ minutes long,” Taylor explained. “We had three four-minute water breaks today after the eighth, 12th and 18th periods. I’d say we went through 200 gallons of water today.”
“And they can get water any time they want. We don’t have any rules concerning that,” stressed Harasymiak, who considers this to be the most humid stretch of weather for preseason training camp that he can recall in his eight seasons as an assistant and head coach at UMaine.
“The biggest thing for us and where we’re located is that we’re not used to this,” Harasymiak said. “This is like when we went to Tulane (in New Orleans) three years ago. The humidity is completely different. We aren’t used to breathing in it. We’ve got to push through it but we’re also always conscious about player safety. That’s the number one concern for us.”
UMaine suffered a tragic death on July 24 when freshman defensive back Darius Minor collapsed and died during a light workout. But whether the heat had anything to do with it is unknown because the autopsy results have yet to be released. Minor was from Virginia.
There are nine student-trainers with the football team, four from the University of Maine at Presque Isle and two from the University of Southern Maine along with three from UMaine, and most of them are lugging a plastic carrying case holding six water bottles each.
“We have trainers with every position group and that definitely helps out a lot,” senior wide receiver Micah Wright said.
There is also a 50-gallon container of water on each sideline with eight thin hoses that squirt out the water for the players.
Harasymiak discussed the importance of hydration to his players three times before Friday’s practice.
“We talked about it in our team meeting this morning, again after the walk-through and then before practice,” said Harasymiak.
“Coach H (Harasymiak) and the coaching staff is very mindful of the heat. The last thing they want is for us to get dehydrated,” UMaine senior linebacker Sterling Sheffield said. “In our meetings, they make sure everyone has their waters.
“I drink 2 gallons of water a day. I like to hydrate,” Sheffield added.
Practicing in the heat “isn’t too bad,” according to sophomore center Chris Mulvey. “They give us good water breaks. And when you’re off (the practice field) you get some Gatorade in you. You mix them both, they keep water inside of you and you’re good.”
Atherley said his players start sipping Powerade as they stretch right after practice.
“Sports drinks are high in sugar and if you consume a sports drink within 20 minutes after you finish exercising, the carbohydrates get stored directly into the muscles,” Atherley explained. “It replenishes the glycogen.”
Glycogen is stored by the body and provides the athlete with energy.
“If you drink a sports drink an hour and half after you exercise, it metabolizes very differently,” added Atherley. “The timing of when you eat and drink is just as essential as what you eat and what you drink.”
In addition to consuming water, Wright pours cold water down the back of his neck.
“It kind of shoots down your whole body,” said Wright.
Other players put a wet towel on their heads.
The players take the heat in stride. It can be uncomfortable for some, but others are used to it.
“I don’t hate it. It’s all part of the process, part of the grind,” junior defensive lineman Charles Mitchell said.
“It makes us better. It gets us more in shape,” Sheffield said. “You can’t let the heat get into your head. You’ve got to hydrate and get through it. It’s a mental thing and a physical thing, too.”
“I don’t hate (hot days) but they aren’t fun for redheads,” the redheaded Mulvey said.
After practice, the players will shower and a lot of them will do a quick workout in the Stanley Wallace Pool. Players will also climb into the 50-degree ice bath.
“That’s good for recovery,” Mulvey explained. “Then I put on some aloe vera.”
“As long as I’m on a football field, I’m a happy man, and I think a lot of other people on the team feel the same way,” said Wright, who had knee surgery in November and is sporting a knee brace.
“We’re usually playing in 4 feet of snow,” said junior wide receiver Earnest Edwards. “I’d rather play in the sun than the snow.”
Edwards added that getting a lot of rest and eating healthy are also important in the recovery process after a day in the heat and humidity.
“Sleep is just as important as nutrition,” said Atherley, whose team usually practices at 7 a.m. so it requires that his players get to bed early the night before.
Atherley’s players head to the ice bath after practice for eight to 12 minutes. It is particularly good for their feet, he said.
Taylor said the UMaine football players are weighed every day and if they lose weight and don’t regain enough based on their frames, “they won’t practice the next day because they will be more at risk for heat exhaustion.”
Harasymiak and Atherley said Taylor and the UMaine training staff do an excellent job monitoring players and making sure they are drinking plenty of water to combat the heat and humidity.
Players for both teams will be guzzling plenty of water this week with the National Weather Service calling for high temperatures in the low 90s on Monday and Tuesday and mid-80s on Wednesday.
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