Our quarterback took one final knee as the clock wound down to 0 seconds. The scoreboard read: St. Albans 13, Landon 7. My high school football career had just ended with our second consecutive IAC championship, and at this point I had no idea whether or not I would be playing football at the next level. Three days later, I found out from my x-rays that I had been playing the last four games of the season with a fractured back.
I spent the entire winter resting and rehabbing my back, hoping that I would find myself on a college roster in the upcoming fall. Finally, I received a call in the spring from the special teams coordinator at the University of Michigan, informing me that they had a spot on their roster for a kicker, and that they were going to take me on as a preferred walk-on. All of my focus immediately shifted to preparing myself as thoroughly as possible for Michigan football.
I dedicated the entire spring to completely refining every aspect of my kicking and continuing my rehab. Near the end of the spring I met with the St. Albans strength and conditioning coach to create a workout plan for the summer that would prepare me for Michigan. The strength coach started testing the maximum weight I could lift in all of the basic weight lifting exercises in order to understand where I stood, and how much work was necessary over the summer. We determined that although I had lifted a good amount in high school, I had a long way to go before I was ready for Michigan.
By late spring, I was lifting Monday through Friday and kicking every other day. By the end of the summer I had gotten significantly stronger, and became extremely comfortable with pushing weight sleds. When I got to Michigan I was extremely confident that I could not only keep up, but also successfully perform at that high level of football.
The football atmosphere at Michigan was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I woke up at 4 A.M. for lifts that were at least twice as hard as any lift I had experienced in high school. Twice a week we lifted at 6 A.M. These lifts would last about an hour and they were high intensity lifts, but not terribly challenging. Once a week we had a 5 A.M. lift that was incredibly challenging. The purpose of the lift was to push you until you could not keep going and then make you keep going. Aside from the lifts, we would practice Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. These practices were extremely intense with absolutely no stopping from start to finish.
I found that I was well prepared for certain aspects of Michigan Football, but there were certain things that nothing could have prepared me for. The biggest and most important part of football at Michigan was the weightlifting, especially for the players who were not going to see the field for a few years. The weight room was the place where you could really put in the work to get better and prove yourself to the coaches. With that came the expectation that you were going to give 100 percent, and the strength coaches would not accept anything less than that effort.
The only reason I was prepared for, or able to complete the workouts at Michigan was because I had such a great strength and conditioning coach at St. Albans. Although I lifted in high school with my teams and during the summer, those lifts were not intense or hard enough to prepare me for the Michigan lifts. It took the extra work during the summer before I went to Michigan to fully prepare. Since I was willing to put in the extra work during the summer, I was able to get the full attention of the strength coach at St. Albans, and because he knew what he was talking about, he put me through workouts that not only developed me as a kicker, but were also hard enough to mentally and physically prepare me for the Michigan workouts.
During practice I would hear many of the players talk about how they never really lifted in high school, and that really showed during the workouts. The kids that never lifted in high school struggled because they did not know how to push themselves that hard, or they were simply not mentally strong enough to push a sled 100 yards, for example. The only reason I was able to make it through the workouts and take full advantage of them was because of the work I put in during the summer, and because I had a great strength coach at St. Albans.
Since I am a kicker, my practices at St. Albans were pretty similar to my practices at Michigan because kicking a football is always the same no matter where you are. The only difference between practices at St. Albans and practices at Michigan was that at Michigan you were expected to perform every single repetition perfectly, whereas at St. Albans a couple of bad kicks were not a big deal.
At Michigan, although as kickers we were alone most of practices, there were two or three times in practice when we were asked to make field goals in front of the coaches. If any of us messed up, we would hear about it. This added pressure to practice that was not there at St. Albans. As long as you can deal with coaches scrutinizing you, and letting you know every single time you mess up, then you can successfully perform at the Division 1 level.
As far as the rest of the players on the team, practice at Michigan is nothing like any high school’s practice because every single player on the team is a superstar. So when you are going up against players in practice not only are they bigger, faster, and stronger than almost all the players you faced in high school, but they are also the best players in the country. The skill of the players combined with the zero tolerance for mistakes that the coaches present creates an intensity in the practice environment that is so strong that it is incredibly challenging to adjust after coming out of high school.