More than 30 members of the Washington-Lee football team follow a weightlifting workout with sprints out on the school’s track during a cloudy, muggy Monday morning.
Official practices are still a month away, but the Generals are hard at work, preparing for the 2010 season. While some — like running back Anthony Taylor, who enters his senior season with an added 20 pounds of muscle mass and looks chiseled at 188 — cut through the humidity with relative ease, others are simply getting to the point where they can survive the season.
After several stomach-turning casualties, it’s time to call it a day.
"If you threw up, you’re done!" fourth-year head coach Josh Shapiro instructs, also warning players to stop running if they feel light-headed. "Try to puke in the grass! Don’t puke on the track!"
The Generals have team workouts four days a week, lifting weights and conditioning from 9-11 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, W-L has what Shapiro calls "competition day," where the Generals battle one another in other sports, including 3-on-3 basketball and indoor soccer. The team favorite is dodgeball, played with volleyballs in the snug confines of a wrestling room — an event Shapiro calls "hilarious."
"When the game starts, there’s like 20 kids on a side, so you don’t even have to aim," the coach said. "You just throw [the ball] and it’s hitting at least two" players.
WHILE WEDNESDAYS bring a joyful and beneficial break to the weekly grind, the nickname "competition day" is central to the offseason workout theme. Athletes are divided into teams of six, with each group led by a senior General and a coach. Teams compete against one another, receiving points for efficiency in the weight room (working rather than standing around and talking), attendance, completing lifts and putting away equipment. Prizes include a pizza party and receiving a free nameplate on the back of an athlete’s home football jersey. Keesean Braithwaite, Nick Freed, Paris Ebert, Daniel Guenther, Ian McLennan, Trevor Turner, Nate Young, Nico Burns and Taylor are the senior leaders.
"The weight room for me is a confidence builder and a team unifier," Shapiro said. "It’s good for the team cohesion and bonding and it builds confidence. The more they’re in there, the more they see their weights increase."
Players’ strength achievements are posted on the wall of the weight room, adding to the personal gratification of hard work. One sign lists players who reach certain bench press and squat weights, categorizing them somewhere between a one-star Brigadier (low end) and a five-star Commander in Chief. Five-foot-8, 275-pound junior defensive tackle Charlie Smith, who has a one-rep bench max of 315 and one-rep squat max of 425, is the only General as of July 12 to achieve Commander in Chief status. He also tops the 1,000-pound board —- a list of players whose one-rep max with the bench, squat and clean total 1,000 pounds — with a total of 1,350. Guenther, the team’s starting center, and Taylor are listed at 1,250 pounds.
"It gives me a sense of pride," Smith said of his strength numbers being on display. "It makes me a little more proud to go in the weight room."
Guenther said he tries, for the most part, to use positives when encouraging teammates to join the other Generals in the weight room. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound lineman, who can bench 275 and squat 405, remembers what it was like to be a younger athlete who lacked experience in what can be an intimidating environment.
"It’s been a transition for me because I used to be kind of a quiet guy," Guenther said. "But this year [I’m being more of a leader]. Football really matters to me. I really want this to be a good last season for me. I’m trying to step up, trying to get people in and trying to push myself in the weight room, too.
"Some people think that leadership is all about yelling at people. I think part of it is encouraging people and building people up. I was in that situation before. It just got harder and harder because people were being hard on me. I had to kind of build myself up. I’d rather be able to help other people out."
SOME OF THE GENERALS have also been watching what they eat. Taylor, who gained more than 1,000 yards during his junior season, has been eating foods high in protein — thanks, in part, to Shapiro. Last school year, the coach would find Taylor during lunch and make the running back eat two peanut butter sandwiches regardless of what Taylor had already eaten. Shapiro keeps two plastic containers of creamy peanut butter and two loaves of white bread in his office.
Taylor will be depended on to produce a large portion of the team’s offense during the fall.
"I try to lead by example," Taylor said. My teammates "see me going that way, so they take the initiative to try to do the right thing."
On this July day, Shapiro estimates 35 Generals are present for the workout, 10 are attending summer school, five are on vacation and three or four overslept. He said the program’s conditioning has come a long way since his arrival for the 2007 season, when W-L started the year with only two players who could bench press 225 pounds and only three who could run the 40-yard dash in less than 5 seconds.
With official practices one month away, Shapiro is looking for his Generals to continue pushing themselves. From the sound of it, his senior leaders have things under control.
In the morning, "I think about: You’re going to have a million other days to sleep in. You’re going to have a million other days to do what you want to do," Guenther said. "But this is probably going to be my last season. I love the game and I don’t want to take anything for granted. There aren’t a whole lot of days where I wake up and I’m just like, ‘Why am I here?’ Every day has a purpose. Every day helps you get better for the season."