The Gophers football team hit the beach Friday, taking over Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis, but this wasn’t some sunbathing exercise.
“It was one of the best workouts I think I’ve ever had up here,” sophomore defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere said.
With training camp five weeks away, this is a relatively quiet time on the college football calendar. But players are grinding through summer conditioning programs, which run five days per week for the Gophers.
Coach P.J. Fleck always looks for variety. At Western Michigan, his strength and conditioning coach, Dan Nichol, occasionally took the Broncos to a Kalamazoo lake for workouts.
“The guys at Western loved it, and [the coaches] had the same types of ideas coming here,” DeLattiboudere said. “But they said they’re going to bring a whole new attitude toward it because it’s Gopher football now.”
The Gophers arrived at Nokomis in charter buses, with the players all dressed in black “Row the Boat” workout shirts and matching maroon shorts. Someone put up a sign that said “Gopher Beach” as players taped on their water shoes.
Soon, Nichol was blowing his whistle, and players were moving in unison. They did resistance running in the water, contorted their bodies through stretching exercises, raced through the fireman’s carry drill on the beach and flexed off in a tug of war.
“Basically, the whole day at the beach was a time for us to understand we’re going to have to battle in different sceneries, different areas as the season goes along,” DeLattiboudere said. “Coach Nichol said, ‘You guys are going to have to bring it.’ ”
The fireman’s carry was definitely a twist. At the Gophers practice complex, the team often does drills carrying 45-pound barbells around cones. This time, they had to carry a teammate through the sand, about 20 yards around a cone and back.
DeLattiboudere shouldered 6-6, 290-pound offensive lineman Sam Schlueter, working to keep his footing in the sand.
“A lot of people who were at the lake, they just stopped what they were doing and were watching us, like it was a game or something,” senior linebacker Jonathan Celestin said. “It was pretty cool. All eyes were on us, but we knew we were there to accomplish some work.”
Fleck often says that he wants his players to adopt “a nekton mentality.” Nektons are sharks and other organisms that can swim independent of water conditions, unfazed by cold water, warm water or various currents.
“When we heard we were going to the beach,” DeLattiboudere said, “we were like, ‘All right, this is our natural habitat. We’re nektons, baby. Let’s get after it!’ ”
Winter workouts started at 6 a.m. One day, instead of doing conditioning drills, Fleck had the players divide into two teams for Wiffle ball. Another morning, they played dodge ball.
“We still have that nekton mentality — always hungry, never full,” Celestin said. “But sometimes you can’t just go straight through a six-month period without having some type of fun. After a while, you might drive yourself insane.”
Nichol plans to hold two or three more workouts at Lake Nokomis. Players will relish the trips. Once training camp starts, Aug. 1, there will be no more trips to the beach.