On Monday, March 7th, the Houston Cougars kicked off their spring practice schedule. While their first game against Oklahoma is still a long way away, this practice, in a way, marks the beginning of the season, or at least an official close to the previous one.
This year’s spring practice fields a collection of Cougars many believe will achieve big things. The 2015 squad, which won the American Athletic Conference and the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl exceeded the expectations of most and completed the most impressive season in thirty years. And while the Cougars have lost some key members from that team, most prominently in running backs and in the secondary, they are also adding what is perhaps the most talented recruiting class in UH history and riding into Tom Herman’s second year with significant momentum. So, needless to say, the Cougars will enter next with high expectations projected onto them.
I was able to attend this commencement of spring practice. It was my first time going, and as a result, I found it difficult to form any opinions of the players. To begin with, I was too star struck to really pay attention to the nuances of the drills. Also, the time allotted for media to be present was largely composed of warm ups for each position.
But, before any of this even began, I watched the players trickle in. I attempted to identify as many as I could. There were a lot of faces that are usually hidden inside of a helmet. I did all right, but need to run through the roster many more times, so I can attach familiar names to their corresponding faces with more ease.
I did much better identifying the coaching staff, because they are exposed, and hide behind, at most, a hat. All of these attempts to discern individuals, however, led to coach Herman. In one short year he has really become quite the celebrity in Houston, so much so that seeing him in the flesh, in what appeared to be cargo shorts and what was definitely a red t-shirt, was a shock. But a good shock, and only so pronounced because I had never been in such close proximity to the now second year head coach. I am more used to seeing him on my twitter feed or stalking the sideline of TDECU Stadium in his signature black polo from my seats way up in the 200s.
But watching him march around the practice field, checking in on the drills that the various position coaches had their players doing was a sight to see. Seeing the Cougars back in action, honing their crafts, pushing themselves to become better football players was incredible. And they were still just warming up. I can’t even imagine what it was like once I left and the real work began.
I was too excited about what the first spring practice represented, a return to football, that I wasn’t really able to discern which players looked sharp and which players looked out of shape. I couldn’t really tell who was primed to shine in 2016 and who wasn’t. Every Cougar looked impeccable to me, merely because they were on the field, representing my alma mater, my greatest sport allegiance, and my hometown.
Walking away from the practice field, feeling eager about next season, I realized something about sports, or at least my relationship with them. This athletic endeavor that I spend so much time watching, analyzing, and thinking about is so compelling that just being in the vicinity of practice is fascinating, and even more so, delightful. The experience rendered my Monday better than any since the end of football season.