First came the typical freshman jitters. Then the ridiculous number of plays to learn. Then the bumps and bruises from full-contact drills. Then two-a-days.
By the time classes started Monday, Rambo was already worn out.
“Everything’s so much faster,” he said. “You don’t have any time to rest.”
Like all the players on Georgia’s roster, Rambo wakes up early for a team breakfast, heads to class, squeezes in lunch before more classes, then immediately makes his way to the weight room or meeting room. Sixteen hours may pass before he makes it back to his bedroom again.
For the veterans, the daily grind is routine. For the true freshmen, it’s a shock to the system.
“I remember last year when I met all the players, the true freshmen, their heads were spinning,” head coach Mark Richt said. “They were just treading water trying to keep from drowning with so many new responsibilities.”
The coaching staff and the school each try to do their part to keep the players on schedule, but even that can become another stress for the uninitiated freshmen.
Academic counselors set schedules. Coaches make demands. Teammates have expectations. Text message arrive to their phones in a near constant barrage of reminders and clarifications.
“Their day is already planned out, so you don’t have to do much thinking on your own,” junior Roderick Battle said. “But you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”
That can be easier said than done. For some of the players spending their first weeks on campus, just finding their way around can be a near impossible task.
People are everywhere, the environment is new, and school isn’t the same as it was before they came to college.
“The population of people, bigger classes,” linebacker Darryl Gamble said, “they don’t get the same attention they got in high school.”
The whole environment can quickly become overwhelming without a significant amount of structure, sophomore wide receiver Tony Wilson said.
“My first fall camp, my first day of classes, it was crazy,” Wilson said. “Finding out where to go around this big campus, trying to be on time to meetings, it’s all about time management.”
That, however, can be a new experience for many of the freshmen, too.
Even with all the reminders from teachers, coaches and teammates, the demands on a player’s time are extraordinary. Beyond all the standard practices and workouts, classes and study halls, there are media requests, appearances and, of course, typical distractions that come with being on a college campus for the first time.
“Now, I think the guys have a lot more to do,” Battle said, “more than I did when I was a freshman.”
Last Saturday, Georgia held its final practice for the week. Afterward, the team had to head to Sanford Stadium for picture day with fans. There was an off day Sunday, but players were supposed to begin attending study hall in anticipation of classes, which began the next day. Meeting times were changed and new schedules were in place.
Suddenly the regimented order of the first two weeks of camp had been thrown into chaos.
“There were so many announcements on Saturday it was making everybody’s head spin,” Richt said. “It was making my head spin. You’ve got all these things that are different.”
Richt had learned from years past that the volatile schedule could be overwhelming for the freshmen, so this season, he decided to make some changes.
Meetings and practice would start later, reducing the crunch on players’ schedules. Text message reminders came from coaches. More help was offered to players learning to manage their schedules.
It didn’t make things simple, but it helped.
For the players, the biggest hurdle is simply finding their niche. After all, adjusting to all the external demands and managing the chaos around them, Wilson said, really isn’t all that different than what they’re learning to do on the field.
“Once you get on that routine, that pattern,” Wilson said, “all you’ve got to do is follow it.”