RUSTON – Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz was in a little better mood following his teams Tuesday morning practice as the Bulldogs spent two hours on the practice fields of the Jim Mize Track and Field Complex.
Just 24 hours earlier, the fifth-year Bulldogs boss walked off the turf of Joe Aillet Stadium after watching one of the more sluggish efforts of fall camp. With its season opener against Northwestern State on Sept. 2 less than three weeks away, Holtz knows his young team is battling the normal wear and tear of fall workouts.
However, he won’t settle for anything less than the Bulldogs’ best effort.
“We were much better than yesterday,” said Holtz, the reigning Conference USA Coach of the Year. “We are going into a little more heat now. We are finishing practice more in the middle of the day. It’s hot. I thought they were a little bit more focused today. I thought they were a little bit more into it. It’s a learning experience. It takes a lot of physical toughness to play this game, but it also takes a lot of mental toughness.
“I think those are lessons we are learning as we go through this right now. For a lot of the new players and younger players, camp is hard. This is the hardest thing they have been through so far. They are sore, they are tired and mentally we are a little bit weak right now. We just have to keep fighting through this and see if we can improve during these dog days we are going through right now.”
Holtz has built a program during his four years in Ruston. After suffering through a 4-8 year in 2013, the veteran coach led Louisiana Tech to three straight years of nine wins and three straight bowl victories. Tech has also won the Conference USA West Division and competed in the league championship game two of the past three seasons.
If the Bulldogs – who are the preseason favorites to capture the West Division again according to the league coaches – are going to repeat the success of the last three seasons, Holtz knows they have to find a way to overcome the mental and physical fatigue that has set in through two-and-a-half weeks of camp.
“It’s a combination that you are three weeks out, its ground hog day,” Holtz said. “You have been on the exact same schedule coming out here practicing. We have a little bit of heat Monday, and we didn’t handle it very well. Camp is highs and lows. It’s high and lows. It is competing and pushing each other. Right now guys get a little bumped and bruised. They are sore and tired. And how are they going to compete through that. How are they going to fight? That’s where the mental toughness comes in. I think it’s been a good growing process for us. It’s something they need to go through because you can’t grow and you can’t learn if you don’t have lows. That’s where you learn the most.”
The practice field isn’t the only place the Bulldogs are learning lessons during August. As part of fall camp, the Bulldog players have been listening to speakers in the evenings talking about a wide range of subjects that are important to college age student athletes.
Holtz said that those messages are just as if not more important than what the players are hearing on the field each day.
“We have an hour long team meeting every night that has nothing to do with football,” Holtz said. “We have had some great speakers coming in here. A speaker from DART is coming in here tonight to talk to them about domestic violence. We have had talks about drugs and opium. We have had a lot of different speakers. We had a guy from the Marine Corps come in and talk about commitment, discipline, togetherness, family … that brotherhood we talk so much about.
“I think these are all lessons we need to hear not only for our football team as we get ready for the 2017 season but these are life lessons that these young men need to hear. They are 18 to 22 years old and we are trying to educate them about some of the pitfalls that they might run into as young student athletes on a college campus. We have to be aware, we have to be smart and we have to continue to learn and that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to educate them a little bit.”
The Bulldogs return to the practice field Wednesday morning.