By Noell Barnidge, Savannah Morning News
During preseason football practices, particularly two-a-days, the best block always comes from a passing cloud that shields players from the blazing sun.
Saturday morning, Savannah State football players were somewhat spared from the sun's rays because the sky was mostly overcast. But battling the humidity presented another challenge.
To combat the heat, SSU head athletics trainer Kevin Lehmann and his assistants continuously monitored the condition of the players.
Lehmann and his staff set up a canopy tent without sides, known as the "misting tent," under which players sat on two benches as two large fans blew water on them. During frequent mandatory water breaks called by SSU head coach Theo Lemon, players would huddle in the shade under the tent and enjoy the wet relief.
"The misting fans help because they keep the air moving," said Lehmann, who sprayed some of the players' heads and necks with water. He also provided iced towels, which players used to cover their faces.
"The cool water kind of brings the temperature down in that area (on the sideline)."
The "misting tent" looked like a human car wash, and players were all too happy to soak it up.
"It helps a lot because you get to cool your body down," senior fullback Jamie Beard said. "Players are going hard on every play. During water breaks, the tent allows you to get your body fresh so you can come back into the next drill and get quality reps."
Because the heat index recently has been over 110 degrees, Lemon has altered his practice schedule. Saturday, he had his team conduct practice at 9 a.m. on the practice field.
Practice schedule changed
The Tigers' second practice of the day initially was scheduled for 3:30 p.m., but Lemon changed it to 7 p.m. inside T.A. Wright Stadium. At 3:30, players conducted meetings with their position coaches.
"Because of the heat we have to make adjustments," said Lemon, who is in his second season at the helm. "We'd rather err on the side of caution than make a mistake with a kid and have him go down."
Lehmann said SSU players have not had any heat-related incidents.
"We're doing the right stuff," he said.
Lehmann frequently monitored a yellow handheld device, a Psychrometer, which gauges the temperature and humidity. He also had a heat index chart, which provides precautionary guidelines.
SSU coaches and trainers also monitor the players' weight loss after practices, and stress the importance staying hydrated.
"We try to limit (weight loss during practice) to 3 percent of your body weight, which is a safe measure," Lehmann said. "After that, it becomes a concern. For example, a 200-pound guy can lose 6 pounds in a practice and that would be the limit. You don't want to see anything more than that."
Gone is the era of Bear Bryant and his "Junction Boys," where some coaches throughout the country withheld water breaks and only allowed them as a reward.
"I think it's as hot now as it was back then," Lehmann said. "But 40 years ago, did everybody have air conditioning? People were more acclimated to the heat back then."
Tigers in shape
Lemon said about 30-35 players spent the summer on campus and participated in voluntary workouts. The majority worked out at the Anderson-Cohen Weightlifting Center near Memorial Stadium.
Junior linebacker Calvin Leonard remained in Savannah during the summer and participated in voluntary workouts. He visited his family in Atlanta on the weekends.
"Everybody is in shape now," said Leonard, the Tigers' leading returning tackler from last season. "It was an easy decision for me to stay here this summer because I wanted to get better with my teammates. We worked out with Mr. (Michael) Cohen and he got us in better shape."
Leonard said he and his teammates have adapted well to the heat and humidity, and are better prepared for two-a-day practices this season.
"It's been hot," he said. "But Coach Lemon and Kevin, they make sure everybody is taken care of. Nobody has been falling out. A couple of guys have gotten dizzy, but nothing serious."
SSU conducted a variety of drills Saturday. Lemon said he is pleased with the Tigers' approach as they prepare for their Aug. 30 season opener against Morgan State in Baltimore.
"When I look out there, I see guys who can make plays," Lemon said. "I see a little more speed than last year. We've got a lot of youth, but a lot of times athletic ability can make up for inexperience."
SAVANNAH STATE 2007 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Aug. 30 at Morgan State Baltimore 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 JOHNSON C. SMITH # Savannah 4 p.m.
Sept. 15 BETHUNE-COOKMAN Savannah 4 p.m.
Sept. 29 at Fort Valley StateFort Valley 5 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Charleston Southern Charleston, S.C. 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Morehouse Atlanta 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL Savannah 2 p.m.
Oct. 27 EDWARD WATERS * Savannah 2 p.m.
Nov. 3 at Gardner-Webb Boiling Springs, N.C. 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE Savannah 2 p.m.
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
# Joe Turner Classic