Lucas at Large: Heat doesn't slow Badgers' summer schedule

FB_110806_Herbert_Ben.jpgCamp Randall Stadium's new FieldTurf surface is more aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and physically forgiving to the legs than the old rug, which was first installed nine years ago. But on a blazing hot day -- when the temperature is soaring above 100 degrees -- it can still radiate heat like a griddle.

Not that UW football strength coach Ben Herbert minds.

"I think the heat is a great thing,'' he said Thursday with a mischievous grin.

The summer conditioning phase of Wisconsin's out-of-season program began on June 4 in what turned out to be an unseasonably hot and dry month. July has brought more of the same -- more heat and more humidity (and little or no rain). Madison has registered nine straight days in which the temperature has reached 90 or above, including the last two days, which have topped 100.

"Your radar is obviously on high alert to make sure you're really dialed in,'' Herbert said. "We're always like that, but you just want to make sure because of the heat. Our Sports Medicine staffers, Mike (Moll) and Patrick (Whitley), do a great job of watching the guys and seeing where they're at. At any point, if they need to step aside and take a breather, they fully understand that's what they need to do.''

Herbert likes to talk about athletes "being comfortable when you're uncomfortable'' during training. But there are limits, and his approach reflects that on a daily basis. "There are always times where you have to give some external motivation to really bring the best out of them,'' he said. "But if a guy is having trouble tolerating something, we don't approach it as, 'You're soft, you're mentally weak.'''

Herbert believes in building up players.

"Our guys have a clear understanding,'' he said, "that if there's something they're exposed to, and it makes them feel a certain way -- just something is not right -- they need to take the needed steps to get right mentally and physically. Be smart with how you feel and understand where you're at.''

The Badgers have been in a very good spot -- to Herbert's thinking -- since early June.

"Our guys came back ready to work from Day One and they're excited,'' Herbert said.

Last weekend marked the halfway point of the eight-week summer phase.

Reflecting on the results, Herbert said, "We really did hit the ground running.''

The Fourth of July, in this context, was significant to Herbert for only one reason.

"We treated it as a normal training day,'' he said.

That meant four different groups trained at 6:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.

"For being as hot as it was, they tolerated it extremely well,'' Herbert said.

Besides a weight room session, there was over an hour of sprint work on the new turf.

"The guys love it,'' Herbert said. "It looks great and it feels good to their body and legs.''

An impish grin reappeared on his face.

"Because of the softer surface,'' he said, "the (blocking) sleds are a little heavier (to push).

"They don't slide quite as easily as they did before -- which I don't mind.''

After one more sizzling hot day, the temperature is expected to drop into the 80s this weekend.

"We address it as needed,'' Herbert said, "and we've had no guys with issues.''

If someone is struggling, he stressed, "We put him in the best situation health-wise.''

Speaking to the bottom line, Herbert went on, "We're going to get the work in we need.''

But everybody is going to be smart about it.

"If there are things they can't tolerate,'' he said, "we'll obviously back off accordingly.''

Despite the record-setting heat, the Badgers have continued to make positive gains.

"That,'' he said of July 4th, "was as good of a day as we've had all summer.''

Training under such conditions has its advantages.

"From a preparation standpoint, this is outstanding,'' said Herbert, a former UW defensive player. "I've been in a couple of training camps that were like dreams -- 60 to 70 degrees. But they're few and far apart. Usually it's between 80 and 85. This year has been unique. August is going to be hot and once they put the pads and helmet on they will be better acclimated to tolerate the heat.''

That's when the players will be forced to make some adjustments.

"When you put that helmet on, it changes everything,'' Herbert said. "The majority of heat that escapes from your body is through the top of your head. When you trap that heat with a plastic shell, it changes the dynamic of how your body must tolerate that heat. From a heat acclimation standpoint, it would be outstanding if we could prepare them with their helmets on (in June and July).''

Regarding changes in NCAA legislation, he conceded, "I fully understand and agree why it is the way it is. But maybe at some point down the line they could understand how it would be beneficial.''

Herbert was speaking Thursday from his new office. The weight room has been relocated from the basement of the McClain Facility to its footprint under the stands in the north end of Camp Randall. For now, Herbert is sharing some space with the makeshift training and equipment rooms.

"I wouldn't even say there has been an adjustment,'' he said of the ongoing construction.

That's noteworthy considering the players have been shuffled to a temporary locker room area in the stadium -- space once used by Badger football teams in the '70s and 80s -- while the old room is being remodeled in McClain. "It has been as smooth as it could possibly be,'' Herbert observed.

"It has been as seamless of a transition as I could have ever hoped for. We're excited about the temporary space and some of the things that we've been able to do. And it excites you that much more knowing what it's going to be like when it's done. It will be unbelievable.''

Give the new weight room some time to evolve, he suggested, and it will develop a personality.

"No doubt,'' Herbert said. "That was one of the things that I realized was going to be different because of all the sweat and sacrifice and just the aura that the old space had in McClain. The guys liked to grind in there.

"The new setup has no frills. It's not the prettiest you've ever seen. But it sets up well and it's very conducive to putting in the work that we need to put in. The guys have responded well.

"It's definitely already taken on an identity of its own.''
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