It was the dreaded “42s” on the first day of Columbus North High School football practice on Monday, and senior defensive tackle Solomon Knight was doing everything he could to finish.
“It’s like you’re running through the desert and you just have to push through,” he said with a deep sigh and a big smile.
Like the rest of his teammates, he made it to the end, with a little help from the IHSAA.
IHSAA rules limit teams to a 90-minute afternoon session on the opening day of practice, and Bull Dogs head coach Tim Bless had to cut his practice-ending sprints short.
The “42s” drill is a series of sprints that are divided into segments of two, 40-yard runs that the entire squad, divided into three groups, must complete in less than 42 seconds. One group starts a 40-yard run, and the next group can’t start until the previous group’s final man has finished.
If all three groups don’t finish under a combined 42 seconds, it’s like it never happened.
Bless kept the time as the final runners would cross the goal line. “Forty-two, eighty,” Bless said with a tone of annoyance. “That did not count. We will run them all night if we have to. I’ve got nowhere else to be.”
Then the IHSAA rule kicked in, and Bless had to stop the workout. “I’m kind of happy for the IHSAA rule,” said senior linebacker Shaquille Ash, one of the team leaders who was up near the front of each sprint.
“You’ve got to be up front,” Ash said about the senior leaders. “If you’re not, the coaches will be looking at you.”
Ash not only has to worry about getting himself through the sprints, he tries to give encouragement to others who might be struggling.
“It’s a mental grind,” he said of the “42s” drill. “You have to believe in yourself and believe in your training. If you don’t, your body won’t be right for the game. You have to get yourself ready to dominate.”
Bless was happy with his team’s technical ability on Monday. But he quickly added, “We’ve got to get in better condition.” That’s what the “42s” drill is all about.
“It’s about character building,” Bless said. “I think it’s pretty unique to sports. I don’t think there are any other sports where you have this combined physicality and this amount of running.
“It’s all about individual effort. I told them after practice, ‘It takes no talent to be a hard worker. That’s about discipline and mental toughness.’”
The North coaching staff definitely had an edge during Monday afternoon’s practice.
“They were trying to motivate us, get us into gear,” Knight said. “I think they knew the heat could get to us.”
If the coaches were being tough, the players didn’t seem to mind.
“They have to set the tone,” Ash said. “We usually come out pretty hard (in the season-opening practice).”
Senior wide receiver Taylor Summa was worn out, but satisfied.
“This is so emotional because I only have one more year,” he said. “And we have a lot of returning starters, so I’m sure the coaches wanted to get into it hard.”
Bless agreed with Summa’s assessment.
“We try to start strong every year,” he said. “We expect them to come into practice in shape.
“I think two things were required today (for the coaches). We needed to have a lot of patience about the snap counts and we had to have patience about the balls on the ground. Those are difference makers in a ballgame.”
However, Bless explained that he wasn’t about to get tough on those issues on the first day. He said his players were using a different snap sequence than they had practiced all summer and that North was trying out different centers and quarterbacks to handle the longer snap in the shotgun.
The sprint drills were another matter.
“They’ve got to learn to dig deep,” he said. “Our players know what ‘42s’ are, and they hate them equally. But they build leadership and togetherness.”
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