College football teams at every level don’t want December just to be a holiday season.
It’s championship season.
The trick in the offseason, summer and preseason is to mold a team to win in December, when stakes get higher, the weather gets colder and the competition gets more physical.
One key foundation to all the tangibles, intangibles and luck that go into a championship run is health.
Like the flu bug during the school year, football coaches try to avoid, or at least minimize, the injury bug.
The University of Central Arkansas Bears are entering the second round of the NCAA FCS playoffs Saturday with no player who will dress out who didn’t dress out, because of an injury, for the first game of the season.
Going into last week’s first-round bye, the Bears played nine straight weeks.
UCA has a healthy football team in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Certainly, good fortune is involved.
"Two years in a row, knock on w00d — who can say that? That can’t be just roll of the dice, luck of the draw," said UCA coach Steve Campbell. "We’re a healthy football team at this time of the year when you have guys out there practicing every day and to be able to compete on Saturdays."
Alex Fotioo, UCA’s strength and conditioning coach, gets a lot of the credit for how he prepares the team both in the offseason and during the season.
But Campbell also think his players are reaping the rewards of the Mike and Maria Norvell Nutrition Center, which was created through a significant donation by the University of Memphis football coach and his wife.
The center in the Bears’ weight facility, is open during selected hour and managed and monitored by the conditioning and athletic training staff. It provides healthy snacks, energy bars and drinks and just pick-me-ups for athletes of all sports.
"Those kids are really taking great advantage of that nutrition center," Campbell said. "We’ll be watching film and they’ll be eating a banana or drinking a protein shake. You’ll see them in between classes with a turkey sandwich and a protein bar. All of that daily.
"You can do that once and it won’t be an edge for you. Anybody can do it once. But if you do it everyday, everyday, everyday, I have no doubt that has been a major factor in helping us get to where we’re at. We’ve gotten better as the year as gone on because we’ve gotten stronger and have been able to stay healthy. I would definitely attribute that to the nutrition center and coach Fotioo and his staff have done in the weight room."
Breakfast of champions? It may also relate to snacks of champions.