Saturday, July 04, 2020

Eating a healthful breakfast, sprinting up a hill and lifting a pig: Terps football players keep competing

May 10. 2020
Maryland strength coach Ryan Davis. MUST CREDIT: Maryland athletics
Maryland strength coach Ryan Davis. MUST CREDIT: Maryland athletics
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By The Washington Post · Emily Giambalvo · SPORTS, FOOTBALL

The Twitter feeds of Maryland's football players are similar to those of their counterparts around the country: full of conversations with teammates, highlights from previous seasons and miscellaneous musings. But this spring, with the players' routines upended by the novel coronavirus pandemic, many of the Terrapins have sprinkled in a different type of post.

An offensive lineman tweeted a picture of his perfectly made bed and the pool he cleaned that day. He included his daily schedule: wake up at 8 a.m., breakfast, four online classes, lunch, offensive meetings. A newly enrolled linebacker posted a video praising his teammate's competitiveness. Another lineman shared his healthy breakfast.

"Oh, I love it," Maryland strength coach Ryan Davis said of a photo showing a player washing dishes. "That would fall under an act of service or gratitude. Not expecting someone else to do the dirty work for you."

These posts are the public face of a program-wide contest, with the players split into teams and earning points for acts of this sort. It also has become reassurance for the coaches as they trust their players to make the right choices while far from the football facility, where their daily lives usually find structure.

In January, players designated as general managers drafted their teams, and the teams earned points through the offseason. Players work to improve their individual competitive score, which eventually turns into a report card-like profile on their lockers that shows progress toward goals. But with no in-person interaction between the players and staff members since early March, the visual evidence of those habits has migrated to social media - and might have increased in importance, too.

"This is what I've been telling our team," said Davis, the director of football strength and conditioning. "The best players you're going to see this year when you turn on the TV are going to be those who were mentally tough and mentally disciplined through this time."

The team has a break between the end of the season and the start of winter conditioning, but strength coaches rarely go long stretches without interacting with players. Coach Michael Locksley said those staffers are "the nuts and bolts of ... what your team is made of."

Usually, the players would practice three times per week in April, attending meetings with their position groups and eating some meals with their coaches and teammates. On days without practice, they would train with the strength staff. The academic support staff is in the team facility, too.

But with organized team activities prohibited by the Big Ten, the players could only meet virtually and will return for meetings for a couple more weeks beginning May 20. Davis and other members of the strength staff post daily workout plans on social media, but the staff can't host group video calls for the team to work out together. They can only send those suggestions through an app with videos attached.

"The relationships that you've established during the offseason and during those other times, it's really going to be under fire right now," Davis said. "If you did what you're supposed to do, you really have those relationships and those connections with the guys, (and) you're not going to have a problem with them working."

For Davis, it helps when a player shares his work, such as defensive lineman Anthony Booker Jr. sprinting up a hill, because it encourages his teammates to show the same effort. Marcus Finger, an offensive lineman, recently tweeted a video of him doing squats with a pig on his shoulders, and teammates chimed in with jokes.

After Maryland canceled in-person classes, the football program sent questionnaires to the players as they headed home. The survey asked players where they planned to stay, which parents or guardians would be with them, whether they had Internet access and what training equipment was available. With that information, Maryland could distribute care packages to ensure players had what they needed.

What's missing is that daily contact, the impossible-to-replicate interaction during meals, in the hallways and on the field. Davis wants a member of the strength staff to communicate with each player every day. It can be through FaceTime, text or even Instagram direct messages. The staffers mark which players they have heard from on a spreadsheet they share.

Sometimes those conversations unearth important information. Maybe a player's mom was furloughed or an early enrollee needs encouragement after he gave up his final semester of high school for spring practices that were canceled. In those instances, Davis might give that player another FaceTime call and then pass the information to the coaches at the all-staff morning meetings.

Davis's routine has remained relatively unchanged, and that consistency is what he preaches to his players. Davis still starts his day at 4:30 a.m. He attends a men's group on Zoom at 5:30. He meets with his staffers, then with the entire football staff. He works out in the afternoon, and players, who have learned his schedule, will FaceTime him then. ("Sometimes they just want to see that you're working, too," Davis said.) Four days per week, he sets aside an hour to talk with an intern in his field who's trying to work his way up. Then, in the evening and usually while cooking barbecue, he starts calling players.

Davis reminds the players of the difference between options, such as picking what color shirt to wear, and choices, which have consequences and often lead to behaviors. Maintaining those habits is how he hopes the players will navigate this time away from one another.

The Terps' staff members, Davis said, might be hoarse when they return to in-person coaching. But it will be a welcome reprieve; he has spent the past few months gaining an appreciation for moments that had, until recently, been a routine part of his life.

"I don't think any of us have ever taken for granted the job that we get to do every day," Davis said. "I really don't. We absolutely love having the privilege to coach and do what we do with these guys, but it is a challenge when you don't see them."



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