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New-look Bison working hard in 'offseason'
LEWISBURG — With a full moon trying to poke through an early morning fog still hanging over Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium, the first thing you hear is a whistle.
Followed by another. And another.
Sort of a strange sound at this time of day? Then you realize this is when football teams become great.
Just after 6 a.m. in the final week in July, nearly 40 members of the Bucknell football team are already in full sweat even though preseason camp doesn’t open until Aug. 7.
That’s how it has been for the last nine weeks, though. While most of their classmates have scattered for the summer, whether it is to the beach or internships or summer jobs, a few have been gutting out their break becoming not just better football players, but, for lack of a better word, brothers.
“It really speaks to the type of kid we have here,” said senior receiver A.J. Pompliano, a North Carolina native. “It says a lot about the dedication level of this team.”
Who or just what “this team” is, is yet to be determined. While the Bison return a veteran squad — 13 starters are back — nearly everything else has changed. New head coach Joe Susan has brought in an almost entirely new staff, which comes with a new style of play, particularly on offense.
That’s what the summer is about.
“You still win football games in the fall, but everything you get done in the summer goes a long way toward that,” said senior linebacker Travis Nissley, last year’s Patriot League Football Scholar Athlete of the Year. “This year there is so much to adapt to with the new staff that it makes this summer more important than ever. We’ve been lucky, the new staff is great.”
Four times a week, the entire crew is on the field at 6 a.m., working out under the direction of strength and conditioning coach John Field. Due to NCAA rules, members of the football staff can not oversee the workouts, and everything is voluntary.
After more than an hour of conditioning and agility drills, it is into the weight room for lifting for another hour. Then there is a break where some players go rest, others go watch film or meet with coaches. The group returns for some 7-on-7 at about 5 p.m., where the players work on the new offensive and defensive schemes.
All the summer work leads up to a conditioning test before camp starts Saturday. Every player will run a series of 16 110-yard dashes to be completed in a specific time depending on your position.
“We’ve been working all summer for this test,” said Pompliano. “That’s the goal; to complete it here, when it is nice in the morning, rather than in camp when it’s hot and you are tired.”
“It’s not that bad of a test,” said Nissley. “But it usually turns into a giant race. The time isn’t that bad, but in the end our competitiveness kicks and we are all trying to beat each other.”
Completing the test during the summer workouts is paramount, Pompliano said. Once the entire team arrives for preseason camp, the pressure goes up to finish the feat under the watchful eyes of the coaching staff and the rest of the roster.
“Test day (during preseason camp) is the funniest thing,” said Pompliano. “Everybody is in shape, but the coaches are watching, which makes everyone nervous. By the end of it, there are guys on their knees throwing up.”
But the summer work isn’t just about football. It’s not just about preparing for the Sept. 4 opener at Duquesne and trying to get the program, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2006, turned around. There is more to it.
About 30 of them are living together in a fraternity house for the summer. They’ve spent time doing non-football things, like floating down the Susquehanna or going to the races Saturday night at Selinsgrove Speedway.
The older guys have also had to do some parenting.
“Some of the young guys don’t even know how to cook,” said Pompliano. “So it hasn’t just been about football. Some of the older guys have to be mentors.
“It’s about the camaraderie. Getting to know your teammates and becoming closer.”
The time spent in the summer proved invaluable to Nissley, who has spent his summers in Lewisburg despite living a lot closer — Lancaster — than a lot of his teammates.
Nissley said he came to Lewisburg a handful of times the summer before his freshman year and by the time camp opened, he already had a base established that helped him.
“It was huge for me to come in because I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “But when I came in for (fall) camp, I felt like I was already part of the team. It also helps establish leaders, especially with the freshmen.”
New-look Bucknell has been hard at work
By William Bowman The Daily Item