By JUSTIN RAINS
Three years ago, the Palestine athletic program began it’s Boot Camp program during Spring offseason workouts.
The following fall, the Wildcats made the playoffs after a dismal 2-8 showing in 2010.
Last offseason, the Wildcats again undertook Boot Camp. In 2012, Palestine was back in the playoffs, giving eventual state semifinalist Carthage the closest game it would have until that state semifinals loss.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But, perhaps not.
“I think its added a lot in just teaching kids how to encourage each other,” PHS coach Lance Angel said. “It’s just a chance to really, for two weeks, throw everything at them. (We) try to teach them how to be perfect in life, in football and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“Once we end boot camp is when we start doing some football drills and we want to get them in the mindset that this is what perfect looks like so that, when we walk onto the field, they know what we’re looking for.”
Palestine began the third year of Boot Camp this week, and coaches and players alike are hoping this year’s edition can push the Wildcats past just a playoff appearance and onto playoff victories.
The Wildcat Boot Camp is broken up into two phases: Classroom and physical.
For the first three days of camp, coaches make presentations to the players about topics like perseverance, team sacrifice and discipline.
Tuesday, Angel made a presentation on how geese are the ultimate example of a team. They encourage each other in flight, help each other when injured, and the geese’s flying-v formation cuts air resistance by 70 percent.
It’s a theme that he said he wants his players to emulate, and it appears to be sticking.
“The team has been a lot more brought together (since starting boot camp),” lineman Eric Gonzales said. “We’re not a team anymore, we’re like a family. We all protect each other and we’re always there for each other.”
After the first three days, camp moves into the physical portion, which is broken down into three stations — logs, command sit-ups and mat drills — that the players go through every day.
While each station is different in the physical activity performed, they’re not different in what they require from the athletes both mentally and physically, Angel said.
“All stations have their own challenges,” he said. “But, each station will push the players to have maximum focus, effort and enthusiasm.”
If the physical toll of those three stations aren’t enough, each day ends with what the Wildcats call a “gut quarter.” In that quarter — a 400-meter run — groups of athletes are required to run one lap around the Wildcat Stadium track in under a certain time.
This, Angel explains, simulates the late stages of a football game, when players are tired but still need to be able to focus, perform and encourage.
It’s not easy, said running back Ben Luckett, who is going through his second boot camp after transferring from Westwood.
“I barely make it through this one but I’m going to get better at it, as long as my teammates are pushing me through it,” he said.
The camp doesn’t have a set end date. It ends, Angel said, when the team goes through a “perfect day,” which is when the whole program exhibits maximum effort, enthusiasm, team encouragement and perfect focus.
The coaching staff plans on the camp last anywhere from two to three weeks, but how long it really lasts is up to the players.
Any athlete that wants to play football for Palestine next season must go through the camp, and the Wildcats boast 145 players as they kick-off 2013.
Having been through two camps already, all-state lineman Brian Thlang has seen what it does and what it can do for a team.
“Boot camp compared to offseason is quite a bit harder,” Thlang said. “Everything is tough and boot camp is really where we push our athletes and push ourselves toward our limits.
“Everyone learns to realize that you’re going to fail, but even when you fail you have to get back up and help each other. If you fail and don’t get back up, we’ll lose all football season.”