Earlier start to football preseason practice embraced by Tulane

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NEW ORLEANS – Something was different at the first day of preseason football practice Monday at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium.

It was the same difference later Monday afternoon when LSU took to the practice field for the first time in Baton Rouge.

And it had nothing to do with the players on the field, or the Angry Wave at the 50-yard line Uptown, or Ed Orgeron beginning his first preseason camp as the Tigers’ permanent head coach.

It, on the other hand, had everything to do with the calendar. It still said July.

For the first time in 2017, Division I college football programs are operating under a new normal – opening camp a week earlier with no more “two-a-day” practices, after legislation was passed by the NCAA’s Division I Council in April. The edict came down barely 100 days ago.

So it is that thirty-three days before Tulane welcomes Grambling into Yulman Stadium and LSU heads to Houston to face BYU, practice has begun.

It’s a little different than four decades ago, when Tulane coach Willie Fritz was a senior in high school.

“That was the first year they let us have water at practice,” Fritz recalled Monday, “and you did three-a-days. That eventually got cut back to two-a-days, and now one-a-days.”

Well, sort of. Besides a full-contact practice of up to three hours, teams are allowed to have a walk-through. Players must also get a three-hour break during the day.

While much of the changes that have come about are a part of player safety, the atmosphere of college sports is much different than when Fritz first became a head coach on the junior college level in 1993.

Freshmen enroll in June, if not January; virtually the entire roster remains on campus for part, if not all, of the summer; and external factors like nutrition and strength training have become as important as X’s and O’s.

“These guys are bigger. We prep over the course of the summer (and) we practice harder,” Fritz said. “We had five two-a-days last year, and the second practice was helmets only for maybe an hour and twenty minutes.

“I’m good with it. It’s the smart way of doing it.”

The Green Wave players seem to enjoy the earlier start to practice.

“To be honest, I couldn’t wait to start football, period,” said junior wide receiver Terren Encalade. “Working out (in the offseason) is the hard part.”

Junior linebacker Zachery Harris concurred. “I like starting early,” said the Holy Cross grad. “It’s a well-anticipated day, and I’m glad it’s here a week earlier.”

One of the unintended consequences of the early start became evident just before Fritz blew the final whistle on the Green Wave’s practice Monday – several players headed off the field to get ready to head to summer school classes. Tulane has two weeks remaining in its summer session.

Fritz said his team will get the entire weekend off prior to its Sept. 2 opener and that the Green Wave will “try to do some fun things during camp.”

“When I was a young head coach,” Fritz said of the extra time on the preseason calendar, “it would have been more time to grind and work. Now, I’m a little smarter. We need to take a little time off and be fresh.”

That freshness, and a little more depth on both sides of the football, may help Fritz’s club close out games better in 2017.

“One of the things we’ve got to do a good job of is finishing in the fourth quarter,” he said.

That, however, is for the games, which are still more than a month away.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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