From Aug. 19 to Sep. 3, the Whittier College Football team had their summer training camp. Having little-to-no days off until the actual school year started, the players worked hard to build up a team that will bring home victories this season.
The Poets had practice every day: three hours of hard work on the field during the blistering heat of the afternoon. These practices not only involved running and drills, but also weight training. Normally, the team would be out on the field twice a day, but the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently established a new rule banning two-a-day practices. “It affected camp greatly because we’d be out on the field twice,” said second-year cornerback Natnael Yitayew. “[We] focused more on the three hours on the field and [the practices were] more in depth.”
“It was definitely different with the NCAA rule,” said fourth-year, wide receiver Bryson Sanders. “We were used to two-a-days every year so this was the first year it kind of slowed down, but it was still a busy schedule the whole time until that last Sunday, when we got a day off.”
On top of the on-field practices, the Whittier College Football team had several meetings and was separated into groups with their assigned coaches and coordinators. The focal point of each individual meeting depended on a player’s offensive or defensive position. “Offensively, we just installed our playbook,” said Sanders. “It was different this year because our head coach is now our offensive coordinator. He installed a whole new offense, so just like the first-years, we were learning a brand new playbook. We went over that in the first meetings and after practice we’d meet again and go over the practice films. We would see what we did wrong or what we did well, then make adjustments from there and get ready for the next day.”
“Being from the defensive side, we focused not a lot on other teams or game prep, but more installing our base defense for the new first-years who have just arrived,” said Yitayew. “They make up a big part of our team every year, especially this year, because the school has taken in almost six hundred new first-years. Two-thirds of our team is made up of first-years, so we had to install the base defense just so they understood our operations and what we were going to be doing [throughout this season]. The majority of our meeting [was] nothing complex, just everything we need; basically, our bread and butter.”
These meetings and practices along with the goals of the Whittier College Football team were captured in the multi-episodic series “Poet Hard Knocks,” created by the Whittier College Sports Network (WCSN), and can be found on the WCSN YouTube channel. Throughout the series, the WCSN broadcasting team follows the team’s progress through their practices during their summer camp.
The broadcasting team was out there everyday with their cameras and equipment, feeling the heat as much as the players did. “We filmed for about two weeks during their training camp,” said the network’s sports editor and broadcaster Lauren Blazey (who also works for this publication). “Jesse Gonzalez, Matt Park, and I were the main videographers. We were out here pretty much every day at practice, filming for a couple hours. We’d pull all of our footage that we got and start editing, so a lot of work went into it. There was a lot of great effort from our camera operators who sometimes put their faces on the line while getting our footage.”
Blazey was in charge of the series, taking on the task of both directing and editing the project. “This is a great way to get some experience. I love doing film work and videos. I have always loved sports, and I think a sports documentary is really interesting because you get to see behind-the-scenes aspects. It focuses on the mental strain and all the work that these players have put it. I think getting to tell [the players’] story through these short videos is a really cool opportunity. We go through and gather the best footage and get some really good interviews. [We] get their perspectives on their triumphs and defeats on the field, even in the early stages of practice.”
The team’s effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. WCSN has captured the progression of skill as the team continued to grow in strength. According to Blazey, the team’s chemistry has evolved greatly since the first days of shooting. “They really seem to get along well on the field. It shows they really care about their teammates and the game. As for these college athletes, I think these videos give an insight into how much work they put in off the field and on.”
The videos are greatly appreciated and admired by the players. “It is exciting to have the cameras out there,” said Sanders. “It gives you that feel that you’re a little more big time than the Whittier College team. It’s encouraging, and I know a lot of the young guys are excited to see that especially because you don’t normally see this in high school. I was here the first year they started and it’s only gotten better from the start. This year has been leaps and bounds. They’ve been jumping up every year.”
“[The videos] are pretty dope,” said Yitayew. “When you’re in it and you’re working out, you’re not really focused on what it looks like or how much you’ve come ahead. You focus on the next day, the next day, and the next. In football, the next play is the one that matters so we are never focused on looking back at how camp was [that day] or looking at how the last day was, we are focused on ‘how am I going to improve or how I am going to do better the next day. To step back and see yourself playing or see what the outlook of someone that doesn’t play football sees when looking at it is pretty cool. So we definitely followed up with it.”
As for the season ahead, the Poets are ready to take on the challenge. “We are excited about it,” said Sanders. “There is a whole lot of new changes, a whole lot of new guys that came in ready to work. We like our match-ups.”
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Yitayew. “Being that we are always underdogs, no one’s expecting anything from us, but we know the sky’s the limit. We have no stress on us, we’re out there just playing our hearts out as a team.”
The Poets have their first home game this Saturday, Sep. 23 at 5:00 p.m. against Arizona Christian University.