Springing Into Spring Football

Players and Coaches of UNE's Football team prepare for another spring training season.

For the month of April, the Football team will be waking up before the sun is up, rolling out of bed, throwing on the correct, color-coordinated clothing, and making the freezing walk from their dorm to the forum where they’ll try to get ready as quickly as possible to catch a few extra seconds of sleep in the locker room while they can. All of a sudden, they hear the rustling, the door, their eyes shoot open, and there he is: Coach Lichten. This is it, this is why they’re here; this is why they dragged their butts out of bed.

 No words are spoken. Everyone knows what they have to do. The organized herd of players begin walking to the blue court of the forum, where once they step foot on that blue rubber floor, they’re sprinting to position in their line.

UNE Spring football has begun.

There are 448 athletes on UNE’s campus, and the football team Boasts approximately 100 of them. Still though, not much is known about this team, which started as a club team in 2017, considering how large its membership is. In general, having Football is new for the campus and students, and while I’m sure many of you heard a lot of buzz surrounding games during the Fall season, many students have no idea that the Football Spring season even existed.

As a retired UNE Football player, I would Like to shine a spotlight on this aspect of one of our newest programs.

Looking back at the Football program history, the Spring Football Season, referred to as Spring Ball, has been something that the team has engaged in since its birth as a club program in 2017. Junior Defensive Lineman with the team Sean Schriever recounts his first year of Spring Ball:

“Yeah, it was a tough adjustment waking up at five am and walking to the forum for lifts and practices before classes. Once we started to get used to it though, it really wasn’t too bad, and it was kind of nice having some extra time in the day.”

Spring ball consisted of early morning practices and workouts that could range from actual practices on the field in the brisk spring morning air to mat drill practices, which took place on the blue basketball courts, and consisted of team based skill and strength competitions, culminating in the full team mat drill.

Just so you understand the dreaded drill these practices got their name from, the full team mat drill is where the one becomes the whole, where one man’s mistake is the teams, where you learn to work as a complete unit to achieve perfection. This challenging drill had the entire team lined up in four lines waiting for their turn, as Coach Lichten himself would run it, blowing the first whistle signaling the front of the lines to begin foot fires.

He would then blow the whistle again, causing the four players leading each line to launch onto their chest in pushup position, still “keeping their feet hot” (peddling them as their arms hold the rest of their body in place). Coach Lichten would proceed to yell commands and point in directions. You would either slam down onto your chest if he pointed and yelled “down” or roll to the right or left as he yelled the direction and pointed that way. If me or any of my 49 other teammates made a single mistake, we would run sprints on the wooden basketball court. On mat drill practice day, everyone mattered and we strived for nothing but perfection.

Now, looking at the 2020 Spring Ball season, we see impending changes to the way it has been done the past two years.  It began by having the players begin waking up early from the start of second semester, with early morning lifts before practice.

When I sat down with Sophomore, Wide Receiver, Brett Miller, I asked him if he liked that they’ve already had the team waking up early so far for lifts? He responded candidly with “not particularly to be honest,” but when I followed with a question about it easing the transition into Spring Ball, he said “yes, for sure. I mean, definitely yes in the sense that it’s easier to adjust, but I mean, who doesn’t love a little extra sleep, ya know?”

So why exactly are Brett, Sean, and the rest of the team waking up? I went to the man himself, the person who built UNE Football from the ground up, brick by brick, with his bare hands: Coach Mike Lichten. In an email correspondence (we could not find the time for a sit down interview as the offseason is a busy time for him between recruiting, fundraising, and his many more responsibilities) I asked Coach Lichten a couple questions to get to understand Spring Ball and its significance.

*Excerpted from our Email correspondence*

Kole Lentini: What is the purpose of Spring Ball?

 

Coach Lichten: Springball is 16 sessions of practice over 5 weeks with no more than 4 sessions in a week held in the Spring semester.  These practices are held without football equipment (helmets, shoulder pads) and are designed to focus on conditioning, learning scheme and team building. 

 

KL: Why have a spring season for a fall sport? Why not just let the team rest or work on their own?

 

Coach: Non- traditional seasons for college athletic programs allow teams to hold organized practices which creates a positive atmosphere for learning and team growth.  Self- guided workouts often lead to improper training or injuries. Having the entire team hear one message and one set of instructions while training allows for all team members to be on the same page as well as grow together.  Having 16 sessions of practice also allows for coaches to create deeper connections with players as well as enhance their own ability to coach their position. 

 

KL:What major changes have been made between the spring seasons of the past 2 years and the Spring Ball that is approaching?

 

Coach: There is always staff turnover between the end of the fall season and the beginning of Springball. Spring practice has been a great opportunity for players to become familiar with new coaches.  The offensive and defensive systems have also matured over the last 3 seasons. Spring practice is a great opportunity to try new plays or concepts as well as teaching new techniques. 

Essentially, Spring Ball is an exercise in team building and socialization for coaches and players alike. And from my experience, it has been effective. Often, the bond between position groups and their coaches is tempered like steel during Spring Ball. You’re pushed to your limits to see how far you and everybody next to you will go, as well as to show the team and the coaches that you’re ready to stand by them and do whatever they need you to. It offers players a chance outside of the season to show what they can do and that they’re beginning to understand how everything works, especially the younger guys.

Spring Football is a challenge that builds character and camaraderie. When asked how he feels going into Spring Ball 2020, Brett Miller responded in a way that I feel is deeply indicative of the majority of the teams feeling on the subject:

“Definitely very excited to get back out onto the football field. A little bit worn down and nervous about keeping up on sleep, but that all comes with time management and learning how to adapt.”