Two-a-days hardest on hogs

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

It is not one of the glamour jobs in pro sports at the best of moments and at this time of year a day in the life of an offensive lineman can be downright miserable.

Especially when it's two-a-day season.

Two-a-days -- as in two practices in one day -- are as unappealing to offensive linemen as things like root canals and proctology exams are to average Joes.

"It's exhausting both mentally and physically," said Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Matt Sheridan, whose team will go through 10 two-a-days during their CFL training camp.

With that in mind, we asked the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Sheridan to take us through one of those days at Canad Inns Stadium and found out why few people would envy the heaviest men on the field -- the players who perform so much grunt work, they are widely known as 'hogs.'

"I don't know about some other guys but I'm usually up by 5:45 (a.m.) and I'm at the stadium for treatment by 6:30," said Sheridan, a 28-year-old Winnipegger and five-year member of the Bombers. "I like to come in early to get treated and taped because all these guys are waiting till the last minute and you don't want to get busted for being late."

Sheridan, who has a house near the Stadium, then joins his teammates for a buffet breakfast at the team hotel at 7 a.m., the first of three daily meals that predictably feature as much pushing and shoving as the practices.

"It's all buffet, so you have to have a strategy," Sheridan said of mealtime in a room full of ravenous football players. "If you flip the switch a little bit and do things in reverse order, it works out well. It's a veteran move."

Breakfast is a particularly important meal for the players, who need to get something substantial in their bodies to supply fuel for the long day ahead.

The team is on the field by 8:30 a.m. and for the next two hours, it's a full-equipment workout, complete with one-on-one drills and mini-scrimmages and the offensive lineman are almost always involved. If there's no scrimmage ongoing, the O-linemen can be seen pushing tackling dummies across the field or participating in a drill in which they slam one another as hard as possible onto a mat. It's not unusual to see a player lose his most recent meal, especially early in camp.

It's a gruelling test for any athlete, let alone a man in a 350-pound frame.

"It's the toughest part of our season," Sheridan said. "Camp is the pre-cursor to the season so they put us through the grinder and see what gets spit out."

The first practice goes from 8:30 to 10:30 and then the players get a 20 to 25-minute break, go inside, get off their feet, grab some Gatorade, some fruit and a power bar and add a little fuel to their fire.

"Then back on the field. I've found that the format we're using for our camp is very effective. The way we run it is we do two practices back to back. We get that physical part of it out of the way and have meetings in the afternoon. It works well."

The second practice wraps up at around 12:45 p.m. and players break for media availability and/or a short cooling down routine.

After lunch at the hotel, there's a little down time but the day is far from over.

"We're back at the Stadium for meetings and film at 4:30. Dinner is at 6, more meetings are at 7 and we're usually out of here at 9 or sometimes later.

"It is a long day. It takes a lot of focus, it takes a lot of being ready and being prepared to do all that football. A lot of guys are at the point now where they are taking naps in the afternoon to try to keep themselves from falling asleep during the meetings. Nothing pisses a coach off more than having a guy fall asleep during the meetings. It does happen though, so there's usually a stop at Tim Hortons before one of those meetings ... get a little caffeine injection into you, make sure you stay awake."

Sheridan said complete exhaustion starts to set in around the time the last meetings wrap up, leaving little room for extra-curricular activities.

"After that you go home, watch a half-hour of TV and you are in bed," he said. "If you are going to go out and party in camp, you are a superstar. You've got stamina to burn because there's not much left when you get through the first two-a-days of training camp."

Despite the arduous work schedule, Sheridan said there are still times when he can find his happy place.

"Actually my happy place is right about at the end of practice. Practice is over, we get to go put a little food down our gullet and get off our feet for a few hours before we come back and do some analyzing of all the mistakes we've made."

Of course, there's also the down side.

"When does it just suck? One-on-one pass rush drills against (defensive lineman) Doug Brown. That is the low point of anybody's day because he pulls out the patented Doug Brown forklift move, where he has the ability to lift 400-pound men off their feet and toss them around like a wet sack of potatoes."

Since there are only 10 two-a-days throughout camp, there are the occasional days that include leisure time. But Sheridan said football is never far from the players' minds.

"There is spare time and we try to come together as a team by hanging out with the guys and getting to know each other. That's what makes a football team strong and makes us work together well on the field. If we do have some time now, we'll go and grab a meal together, play some video games, something along those lines ... something that is going to be a low-impact activity."


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