It's been a long, dark offseason for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
It's been full of questions that will not have answers until September 5th, when the Red Raiders kick off the season against the Bearkats of Sam Houston State in the Jones.
It's been full of controversy, as Texas Tech's subpar 4-8 season in 2014 has led some to question the contract extension given to Kliff Kingsbury.
But today is the day where hope begins anew.
It's the start of Fall Camp, two-a-days, and the 2015 season.
Even though we don't live in the era of the Junction Boys anymore, Fall Camp/Two-A-Days are still one of the more intense areas of football. It's a time to separate the wheat from the chaff, the starters from the second string, the men who are going to make us better now from the men who are going to make us better in the future. It's nothing but blood, sweat, and the crashing of pads.
Fall Camp will always be brutal. As the season wears on, pointless drills designed to toughen up players get lighter and lighter. Tackling drills become more about remembering form than trying to rip your teammate's torso in two like a Mortal Kombat fatality. Drills designed to test the defensive linemen's ability to take on double teams become more fearful of poor form than not taking the person in front of you and planting them in the next county. But in Fall Camp, these drills have one goal: be violent. Get used to being violent. There will be time for healing once the brutality is over. But for now, it's time to beat the tar out of your closest friends.
There is no mediocre Kenny Chesney song that can fully capture what two-a-days or football are (especially with only one Texas Tech clip). We can say that it's the smell of fresh-cut grass, but the true smell of football is a combination of severed horse heads and body odor. For every fan that is overjoyed at the prospect of football beginning, there's a young kid who ate too many bagel bites and skipped too many workouts over the summer who is dreading the wrath of his intense coaches and the relentless sun.
In places like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, the already murky air congeals into a pseudo-fog from the combined perspiration. In places like Lubbock, Abilene, and El Paso, the second a drop of sweat hits your body it evaporates. The only true consistency between different school's fall camp practices is the consumption of pedialyte, and perhaps the taking of ibuprofen. For the player, there is just as much nervousness as anxiousness. And pain.
My first memory of two-a-days involved a concussion and not much else. My most poignant memory of two-a-days was as a sophomore at Abilene High School, laying in the locker room floor in full pads, with I Feel Like Dying by Lil' Wayne playing in the background. Obviously the song is about Weezy doing too many drugs, but I related less to the drugs and more to the haunting chorus. The refrain of the simple sung words "I feel like dying" described why my body was telling me better than any words I could say. My legs felt like the bones in them had disintegrated, and my left shoulder felt like it was rotting away. Another irreplaceable memory happened at Hardin-Simmons University, and involved a senior guard and a one handed block straight to my chest that made me feel like my heart had stopped. Coach Jimmie Keeling's phrase was always, "Stay Purple", and my sternum apparently wanted to impress my new coach by changing the color of my skin to a color of royalty. Two-a-days are violent. They are brutal. But they are also to be celebrated.
Photo Credit: John Weast, Getty Images
The coming of two-a-days signifies something more than just violence and the sharpening of the body and mind. It's the start of a new era. One that this team, your team, will be writing in less than a month.
College Football is truly the greatest reality show known to man. I can get into an episode of Sons Of Anarchy or True Detective because the characters are gripping and lifelike. In College Football, the characters are not simply lifelike, they are real. Laid before our eyes is the event that these people have been training their entire careers for. Stars will emerge, like Pete Robertson in 2014. Teams will surprise you. Teams will disappoint you. There is no order to the chaos, it's simply 22 men squaring off against each other, trying to weather their own emotions, the emotions of the crowd, and attempting to beat the player on the other side of the ball in an endlessly complex game of chess between the two sidelines. They will fail. They will triumph. You will groan and say "not again". You will give a solid Tiger fist pump and scream "YES" as your running back cuts into the open field, pay dirt only 30 yards in front of him.
Fall Camp and two-a-days are the beginning of this emotion. In your high school english classes they call this the "rising action". For the fans, everything comes to a head. All the talk about conference realignment or which player got arrested or how the new defensive coordinator will fare fades away. Not because those things don't matter, they will be rehashed time and time again. But for now, they are put to the side in place of the grand drama that is about to unfold before our eyes in less than a month in the Georgian calendar.
For the Red Raiders, it's time to show us the defensive improvement that's been talked about ever since the hire of David Gibbs. It's a chance to put the demon of 2014 behind us. It's another chapter in the story of beloved coach Kliff Kingsbury. It's time for the stars of players like Devin Lauderdale, Jakeem Grant, DeAndre Washington, Keenon Ward, and Branden Jackson to burn brightly.
For the players, it's time to dig deep and prepare for war.
For the fans, it's time to be thankful and excited that we get to experience the greatest spectacle ever conceived.
It's time for some football.