The Life of a Football Player

by The Pepsi Guy, 5/25/00

Note from HokieCentral: long before he made literary history with his Pepsi Guy game reports here at HokieCentral, the Pepsi Guy was a student. And once upon a time, shortly after the 1997 football season, he interviewed some Virginia Tech football players about their lives as collegiate athletes. He wrote a paper about what he learned from his interviews, and recently, he dug it out of mothballs and sent it to us here at HC.  The piece is a little dated, but it's pretty good and gives some insight not only into a football player's life, but recruiting, as well.

He stands 6'2'' and weighs 165 pounds and is a student at Virginia Tech.

Jason James Bauer wakes up every morning at 9:30 to go to classes. He likes to arrive early so he won't miss anything important his professor has to say.

He has classes until noon then he comes home to his apartment to rest and watch "Jerry Springer." He gets up around three o'clock and attends his last class. From there, he comes home, talks on the phone and hits the books.

If he has to go to work, he puts on his uniform, and if he doesn't, he calls his friends and finds out "what's going on." If a test or quiz is in the foreseeable future, he studies for a little while longer. Otherwise, it's back to the tube and talking to friends.

Jason likes to socialize every night. He will try to find a party to attend or otherwise he just hangs out with fellow Tech students. Whenever he arrives home, which can be anywhere from 10:30 until the following morning, he goes to bed, and starts his routine all over again.

Jason describes himself as a typical Tech student.

Enter Loren Johnson, a Virginia Tech football player.

His classes start around eight o'clock. He attends classes until it's time for lunch around one. At three o'clock he heads to football practice.

First, Johnson goes to his position meetings, for him it's with the defensive backfield coach, Lou West. At the meetings, Johnson goes over the scouting reports for the upcoming game and finds out what is on the agenda in practice.

At around four the actual practice begins. "From four to 7:30 you're practicing non-stop going over the stuff you need to prepare for the game," said Johnson.

After practice, it is time for conditioning. Then it's time to go home, study, and find something to eat. "Eventually you fall asleep while you're studying or while you're on the telephone," said Johnson.

Greg Shockley, a wide receiver and quarterback at Tech, said the way he manages his schoolwork and football is by not having much of a social life on the weekdays.

According to Johnson the key for a football player is time management. "Your social life is put on hold during the football season until maybe Saturday nights. I think that's the only way to be successful academically, is to make a lot of sacrifices."

"I think as an athlete it's hard, but it's something you have been putting up with all your life so you have to just make sure you get your work done," stated quarterback Al Clark.

And after a full day, a college football player still has to find time for sleep.

Gennaro DiNapoli, an offensive guard, says the amount of sleep football players get is not a lot for someone who participates in such a grueling sport as football.

"A typical football athlete during the season probably picks up about six hours, you're lucky to get eight," said Clark.

And if you're injured it gets worse.

"If you're injured, (Clark tore cartilage in his knee in the West Virginia game during his junior season) you have to go to treatment around seven or eight in the morning. That means your morning is going to be starting around seven o'clock every day until you get healthy. That's really a struggle there. Then you're tired in class and then you got to go to practice and then you have a game that weekend. You really never catch up on sleep. Maybe on Sunday you catch up on sleep, but by that time you probably have some school work you have to do," explained Clark.

For the fans, the college football season ends after the bowl games, but for players it never stops. After the season is over, there is still workouts, weightlifting and spring practice to endure.

"It's 365 days a year at the Division I level. It's a full time job," says DiNapoli.

Johnson said the motto that he and his teammates share is, "if you're not working out daily, there is somebody in the country that is working out daily and they will be tops over you." Thus in order to be one of the top teams in the country year in and year out, the Virginia Tech football players prepare for the next football season year round.

Johnson said he has been preparing for the current football season for almost a year and a half. "No summer break, no spring break, no nothing."

Though the players have little free time and don't get much sleep, they each find something enjoyable in playing college football.

"I think the most enjoyable thing is the competition, playing a lot of kids from around the country," said Clark.

"The fans are the most important to me," said Johnson.

DiNapoli said the general atmosphere, the fans, being at a big time program and a great conference is the most enjoyable aspect of college football for him.

"Just being around all the guys, all the friends you make because you spend so much time together, and the experiences of going to other places to play, and just being there on Saturday afternoons makes a lot of it worth it," said Shockley.

Most Virginia Tech football players are on scholarship and get their tuition, room and board paid for, which often leads to the perception, by the public, that athletes have an easy ride through college.

But, as Clark said, "They're (non-scholarship students) here and their parents are paying their tuition. They're not worried about bills just like we're not. Once it comes down to the utilities, the scholarship doesn't cover that and as athletes you can't work."

"Most athletes probably come from a background that, if it wasn't for football, they wouldn't be in school so they don't have the luxuries of having excess money. So we sacrifice just as well as the normal student sacrifices. The only thing is we are out here with a 'free ride' to school, but the coaches make sure they get every dime and penny out of us," said Clark.

Johnson looks at the situation with a different perspective. "I look at engineering students at Tech and I would never want to do what they do. And I look at football players, and I know they (engineering students) can't do what I do so I look at both sides of the table, and I'm just saying that we're just as busy as anyone else and people need to realize that."

And DiNapoli has a different opinion on the matter. "I wish I were a regular student. If you're in college and you're not doing anything, but just taking classes, you've got the life."

But not all college football players get a "free ride" through school. These players are the walk-ons. They pay their own tuition, room, and board, and hope, over time, that they too, can earn a scholarship for football, if not some playing time. But a walk-on has no guarantees.

One such player is Ken Handy, a wide receiver at Tech. He described the first year for a walk-on as being tough. "You don't get any looks, you have to earn respect, and you have to prove yourself. The guys in front of you get the benefit of the doubt."

Shockley, another member of the walk-on fraternity, said that walk-ons "have to work a little bit harder because if you're on scholarship, they know you can play, and if you're a walk-on, then you have to prove to them every single day that you can play and that you belong there." But, Shockley said the scholarship players respect what the walk-ons are going through because, "you're going through the same stuff they are, but you're having to pay to do it."

The most valuable attribute a walk-on needs is patience, according to Shockley, because most walk-ons don't get a good look by the coaches early in their careers so they have to wait their turn.

But usually, even for walk-ons, college football players' careers start even before they have graduated from high school. It is a player's senior year of high school where he must decide which college he is going to attend. Their decision is aided through the recruiting process. The recruiting process is where college coaches write letters, make phone calls and visit the high school athlete in hopes of him attending their institution.

Johnson said he started being recruited the first day of his junior year in high school. He had 15 to 30 schools recruiting him and he had to narrow them down to five because each player is limited to only five official visits.

A player has many factors to weigh in making their decision. Johnson said the factors he weighed in making his decision to commit to Tech, were "exposure, TV wise, and being from Florida to have my parents be able to see me on TV, education, opportunity to play, and also the relationship the coaches have with the players previous to me being recruited."

He said his choice "came down to a winning program and a non-winning program. And I picked the winning program, or the program on the rise." His parents, siblings, coaches, and mentors helped him make his decision to attend Tech.

Johnson described recruiting overall as being "iffy."

"You get two days to visit a campus and you're suppose to get a feel for that campus in those two days, which is entirely impossible. I think the recruiting process needs to be stretched out a little bit more and give a kid the opportunity to visit and get a feel for the players, coaches, and environment that they're going to be in," he says.

The one thing that surprised Johnson, in regards to recruiting, was the money that comes into play.

"I guess for me, coming from an inner city school, you just notice the fan support. The things they do. They put your jersey in your locker; a replica of what your jersey would look like. The ticket, flying back and forth round trip, and how they get it on such short notice. The dinner that they provide. The entertainment that they provide. The list goes on and on. Once you see how they dress the rooms up and put you in these nice hotels, it's a lot of money involved."

Johnson described an official recruiting visit as:

"You wake up Friday morning, leave your home, and get on an airplane. You reach your destination either in the afternoon or in the early evening. The coach picks you up, he introduces himself, and you talk. The coach usually drives you around the campus in the evening just to let you get a feel for it. Then they hook you up with your host. Your host is the person that's going to show you around and you will probably go out that Friday night."

"Saturday morning they wake you up very early, maybe seven o'clock. You eat breakfast and then you meet a lot of people that are essential to you getting an education. That's where the education part of it comes into play. You meet deans, you meet other coaches, you meet academic advisors, athletic advisors, you meet a long list of people.

Then after you meet all those people, they take you on another tour of the campus, take you where your classes will most likely be and show you some hot spots on campus.

"And then, if there is a football game, you go to a football game, and if there is a basketball game you go to the basketball game. After that, you and your host are free to do whatever, just go walk around, hang out, play video games, meet some other teammates, and then go to dinner. After you go to dinner, you and your host are free again. After you're free, you just go to another party."

"And Sunday, when you get up, you have a conversation with the head coach and he lets you know what type of situation you're in; if they're going to offer you a scholarship, if they're going to offer you one right then and there. You say good-bye, get on the plane and come home," said Johnson.

"The worst part about it is telling a school no. These people have put in a lot of hard work and dedication and time into you as a person, and it's hard to tell them no," said Johnson.

Anthony Lambo, a defensive lineman, said the recruiting process is a bit negative and a bit positive. "When you're sitting down and trying to do work, and keep good grades for your senior year (in high school), you have got coaches calling you five times at night, every day. It's kind of hectic."

But on the other hand, as DiNapoli stated, the recruiting process is a unique time in a player's life, because every college coach truly wants them to attend their university.

After being recruited or walking on the team and completing his final year of eligibility, a player's college football career comes to an end. It is at this time that he has to decide what to do with the rest of his life whether it is as a professional football player or in career in another field. For some players the decision is an easy one and for others it is something they struggle with.

DiNapoli, a senior, said "I would like to play football in the NFL. As of now, it looks like a good possibility. (He is first team All Big East.) That's my primary goal."

Looking back on both his good and bad times at Virginia Tech, DiNapoli said he wouldn't want to relive his college career. "I think it's time to move on now. My four years here, it's been good, it's been great and it's just time to experience something else."


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