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August 4, 2012The joys of summer - sunny days by the swimming pool, trips to the beach or the lake with friends, wasting time on sultry evenings. Which of these perennial pleasures did the University of Alabama football players enjoy in the offseason?
It's a trick question. College football players don't have an offseason any more.
In the not-too-distant past, the opening of fall drills - the annual ritual that began at Alabama on Friday - really did represent a starting point, or at least the end of a hiatus. Every year, part of the ritual for practice-watchers was to see which player had enjoyed too much of Mama's home cooking over the previous three months and would thus fail to complete the dreaded mile run, the fitness standard for all.
Such a notion would seem like so much nonsense to players today. No one comes in looking fat and sloppy, sports writers excepted. Almost without exception, everyone, even freshmen, has spent the summer in rigorous personalized training. Practice time is too valuable to waste on waistlines.
The start of August practice is still a watershed in some ways, the first time that all the players and coaches are in one place at one time as a team. But individually and in small groups, the work has been constant for almost eight months.
I am not naive enough to suggest that Alabama players have no fun at all. But quarterback AJ McCarron responded to a question on Friday about summer fun with approximately the same look Dick Cheney would use to greet a query about Lady Gaga.
"We don't celebrate much here," the Crimson Tide's junior quarterback said. "It doesn't matter what we win. I think after the (BCS) championship game, we took off 72 hours and then went back to work.There isn't any complacency here. That's how people lose their jobs."
McCarron was similarly stern through two interview sessions. He'll never be as glib as his predecessor, television-host-in-waiting Greg McElroy, which is fine. They are different personalities.
McCarron's increased public profile seems to have made him a little more comfortable with the media, and while he stayed squarely on the 'Nick Saban Message' of hard work and small egos, his words had the ring of truth.
Like all of the Crimson Tide's seniors and redshirt juniors, McCarron has the rare perspective of having won a BCS title before, only to see the next year end up as (relatively speaking) a disappointment.
Perhaps the 2010 team did relax as it approached the year. Perhaps it didn't buy into the concept that the work to stay on top is even harder than the work to get on top. McCarron seems determined that the message will not get lost this time around.
It is a different debate for a different day as to whether the evolution of "college football player" into a 12-month job is a good thing. The reality, as with facilities construction, is that if you aren't doing it, someone else is.
And if McCarron's demeanor is any measure, Alabama isn't going to let that happen.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.