By the end of the work week, every NFL team will be in training camp. Just like y’all get excited to see your favorite team get back to work, the players feel the exact same way. The first day of training camp is like the first day of school, but with higher stakes!
There’s an optimism to begin every season that’s infectious throughout the building. Everyone believes this new season will be a success, with the hope it ends with a winning record and a Super Bowl parade through your city. Your team might be the shits, but not on the first day.
Or, maybe it’s a contract season and you’re hopeful it means you’ll get paid soon. Or you’re a rookie and just want to finally get back to football after a long offseason of training, draft, offseason programs, extra meetings, and anticipation.
Training camp is where it all begins. So what actually happens on the first day? Let me explain, step by step.
Step one: Get comfy
The first day of camp is mostly a procedural day. You have an arrival time for your first team meeting, but everyone enters the facility much earlier than that, excited to get going and start the routine. If your training camp is off site, which doesn’t happen often, you’re arriving at the dorm. If you’re at home, you either first go to the hotel or to the facility.
At the dorm or hotel, you’re checking in and getting your room assignment and ID card. Then, you haul all your stuff into your room. Veterans get the best rooms, often on a lower floor. They usually don’t have a roommate and can spread out in the room, too.
If you’re away to camp, you’ve arrived with more amenities than at a hotel. You’ve brought pillows, a foam mattress pad, a blanket, sheet, and more. The goal is making that dorm room as comfortable as possible. You don’t spend much time in that room, but it’s your escape from football. Often, you’ve forgotten something and a trip to a nearby Walmart is in your future. It happens every year.
Step two: The dreaded weigh-in
Your first order of business is the weigh-in. This was the part of the day I looked forward to least, as I typically spent the last few days before the weigh-in on a strike calorie restriction to make my weight. Some lucky players are the opposite and are chugging water before they step on the scale.
The relief is visible for all the players, mostly the linemen, who are under their weight. If you’re not, the strength coach might turn his back to the scale as you sprint away into the steam room.
Teams vary for how they handle the weigh-in now. It used to be simple. You had a weight, and you had to be under it. Otherwise, you’d get fined. Now, some teams thankfully use body fat and/or a range of weight. If you’re over your weight, but your body fat has improved, your team might be less inclined to fine you.
Might is the key word. I was fined for the first time my last season in Detroit. I had dropped 3 percent body fat and lost 13 pounds between the end of the offseason program and the first day of camp, but I came in one pound over and got fined. The first and only fine of my career. Yikes.
Step three: Suit up
Once you’ve done your weigh-in, a quick check with the medical staff is next. You’re just walking through to ensure them you’re healthy and ready to roll. You grab any braces, sleeves, and/or tape you need for practice and carry everything to your locker. If you’re a player who’s not cleared for practice, or still needs clearance to get back on the field, then you are spending time with the team doctor to asses your playing status.
After the training room check-in, it’s time for a visit to the equipment staff. Most everything you need is already in your locker: shoes, workout and lounging gear, pads, and a helmet. However, guys want specific gear to wear.
For example, I wanted tight, half sleeves for camp. The strap on my pads would rub my armpits and give me severe irritation. The half sleeves would shield my sensitive skin from those straps. I’d always grab extra gloves, because mine would get super wet during practice and turn disgusting quickly.
Players, including myself, would examine our cleats in the locker room. I’d cut a small X where my pinky toe would be to avoid a blister. Others would ask the equipment staff to stretch out shoes or switch them out for something else. Lastly, we’d all need to get our helmet fit rechecked by the staff. Player safety is always of the utmost importance.
Step four: Test time
All of this is leading up to one of two things: either a team meeting to welcome everyone or the conditioning test. The conditioning test isn’t meant to see if someone is in football shape. It’s a test to see if you’ve been working out all summer.
Most of the drills aren’t super taxing, but they are if you’ve been slacking during the summer. If you have, then you will fail, or worse, get injured. Getting injured — most often, a hamstring pull — in the conditioning test is embarrassing. The worst-case scenario is a season-ending injury, like an Achilles tear, which is no joking matter.
If you don’t pass the test, you can’t practice until you do. I’ve seen players attempt the test multiple times before passing.
At some point, dinner is served and then you’re off and running. Meetings go into the night to prepare for the first practice the following morning.
In between all of these interactions with the various staff, you’re seeing all your buddies again. Everyone is excited to be around each other. Players swap stories about their summers, discuss the upcoming camp schedule, and are just generally pumped to be back in the facility.
It’s like the first day of school all over again. We all know that feeling.