After only a few steps, he began breathing heavily and only kept walking so he could find some shade.
The Tallahassee heat was so brutal Thursday it made even Jimbo Fisher’s dog, Romeo, uncomfortable for the five minutes he observed Florida State’s practice.
The appearance of Fisher’s two-year-old German Shepherd unofficially marked what’s become the “dog days of summer.” Every college football team in America goes through it in August. The newness of preseason camp has worn off, yet an actual game is still more than two weeks away.
It’s like an outdoor cabin fever. Extreme heat plus a practice’s repetitive nature can lead to a potentially toxic combination.
An accidental bump between teammates on Monday could lead to those same players getting chippy by Wednesday. Or the patience shown by a coach on a Tuesday could disappear by Thursday.
“No doubt. You don’t sleep well. You’ve been tired. You’ve been going at it. It’s human nature,” Fisher said. “That’s when you find out: Can you keep your poise? Can you still think? Can you function? Can you process? Can you still play at the same level as when you were fresh?
“That’s the whole point. You gotta take people to where they haven’t been and find out … who they are.”
Fisher and his staff have tested their players all week. And that’s only what the media see during open practice.
Take Tuesday for example. Seminoles defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Brad Lawing was getting annoyed with a player’s footwork during a drill. He grew so agitated he asked star sophomore defensive end Brian Burns to do the exercise in an attempt to get across what he wanted.
“Watch how quick he moves,” Lawing told the group.
Burns fluidly executed the drill within seconds with ease.
“That’s how you lead with your strong foot,” Lawing remarked.
Defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins was no different. He broke down every aspect of what a player was doing wrong. As one of freshman lined up, Haggins told the player his footing was off. The player then reset only to have Haggins say his stance was not good enough. On the third try, Haggins said he didn’t like where the freshman’s hands were placed.
FSU’s coaching staff has a mixture of personalities. Some are loud. Some are quiet. Haggins is somewhere in the middle. Tight ends coach Tim Brewster is one of the more amplified figures. His intense nature is frequently on display, and on this particular Tuesday, he was growing impatient with specific details such as footwork.
That day’s practice ended 30 minutes earlier than expected.
Move ahead to Thursday, and it was Fisher’s turn. The eighth-year coach is always vocal. His West Virginia drawl, when irked, echoes around the practice field and can be heard in the parking lot.
One of his two freshman quarterbacks threw a pass to a tight end. Fisher was mad about the throw, he was mad that the tight end didn’t catch the ball, and he made the quarterback do it again with another tight end. Fisher was still not satisfied. The drill kept going, but he took the freshman in question aside for what appeared to be a less-than-friendly chat.
“I wasn’t at any of their high school practices, but sometimes those high school coaches are tough,” Fisher said of the freshmen adapting to his staff’s methods. “They’re adapting. They make mistakes, and they get right back in there.”
Thursday was one of the more brutal practice days in terms of temperature and humidity. For anyone with a smartphone, the “feels like” temperature soared into triple digits.
Even Fisher, who wears a long-sleeved white shirt and garnet sweatpants at every practice, opened his post-practice remarks by saying, “It was a good warm day today.”
As he spoke for 12 minutes, he addressed the different ways players can beat the boredom, frustration or heat.
One effort from the coaching staff on Wednesday and Thursday was having music played at practice. Fisher said they have done it on occasion in the past; however, these were believed to be the first practices with music playing the entire time.
Most of the music was old school. During the periods when reporters were allowed to attend, it was a mix of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, with the first song being Aerosmith’s cover of the Beatles classic “Come Together” and the next being The Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man.”
The newest song was “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature. The song was released in August 1991, or nearly three years before redshirt senior defensive back Nate Andrews was born.
Once practice concluded more than two hours later, media members and camera crews packed inside the Seminoles players’ lounge for a post-practice press conference. With cameras focused on Fisher, numerous portable massage tables were being set up in the background throughout the lounge.
It was reminiscent of a scene from an old war movie, where cots are set up in several rows for injured soldiers.
This was nothing close to war. Or even a war movie. It was just a chance to find a few minutes of peace in an otherwise hellish day.
“You’re going to find out about your team right now,” Fisher said. “We’re going to be up a week before the game, we’ll be up the week at practice. Now, you’re going to find out what habits we’ll rely on. Good or bad.”