The Walker Valley Mustangs wrapped up the first half of their summer football workouts with the 7th annual Night of Champions. (Banner Photo - Richard Roberts)
For seven years, the Walker Valley Mustangs have closed out the first half of their summer workouts with a tough, demanding and energy-draining 45-minute workout.
The conclusion of the first half of the 2016 was no different. And for the seventh time, when the whistle sounded the Mustangs were off and running, lifting, pulling, dragging and flipping massive tractor tires.
“We started this the first year I got to Walker Valley. I brought it up from Georgia. It’s a way we use to finish out the first half of summer workouts,” coach Glen Ryan said of the tortuous grind. “There are three parts to our summer workouts. We do weightlifting, speed and agility outside and what we call ‘the Pit,’ which is a cross-training workout that gets the guys outside doing things other than typical weightlifting, but still works their muscles.
The cross training consists of swinging sledge hammers, lifting tires and pulling and pushing heavy objects.
“The Night of Champions is a combination of 10 stations. We break the team down into 10 groups, put 45 minutes on the clock and when we blow the whistle they go through all the stations just as fast as they can go, and try to go around as many times as they can,” explained Ryan.
The Mustangs are not allowed to run the stations out of order, or skip a station to get to the next one. They are also not allowed to cut in front of someone waiting to lift, pull, tug or tow one of the obstacles.
“They get a band every time they complete a station and their goal is to get as many bands as possible in the 45-minute period. It's a butt kicker. It's a tough, grinding way to finish, but it's also competition. That's what we're looking for. We're looking for those guys who are going to compete under harsh conditions,” said the coach. “It's always hot that last day. It's long and it's grinding and your legs feel like rubber, but we're looking for those guys who are going to push through and hit the grind.”
The punishing labor is not without reward, with the top placer in each class as well as the top overall finisher receiving a prize.
“It's fair for everybody,” said Ryan. “We don't expect the freshmen to do as much as the seniors. But, they are competing against other freshmen. Then we have an overall champion with the one who gets the most bands out of everybody competing.”
The Night of Champions is also a way for parents, friends and fans of Walker Valley football to see some of the effort it takes to prepare for a long, arduous season of football.
“We hold it in the stadium for anybody who wants to come and watch. We turn on the lights, put on music and get after it for 45 minutes. It's a good way, we've found, to finish up the first half of summer workouts before going into the dead period. Then they will have two weeks off before we start cranking up real football. We've had great turnouts for it and it’s getting bigger and better every year,” Ryan said. “The guys look forward to it and it's just a good thing for our program.”
The competition also gives Ryan and his assistant coaches a chance to see who has what it takes to step up and push through the demanding workout.
“It lets us see who is going to fight to the very end, who is not going to quit. Some of those guys get tired and as soon as they get tired they are going to shut it down. Then we are going to have guys who are going to bust it all the way through. That's what we are looking for,” explained the Mustangs coach.
Ryan also explained the Mustangs assistant coaches play a large role in the workout, manning stations and making sure procedure is followed.
“We officiate each station and we are the ones who give out the bands. They have to complete the whole station in order to get a band. If they fall short or maybe don't finish at the end when time runs out, they don't get a band. The coaches are the ones who ensure that they do what they are supposed to do,” he said.
Along the way there have been Mustangs who have picked up as many as 40 bands which is four times around the obstacle course. It is also a time when underclassmen have a chance to push themselves against the more experienced Mustangs.
“That's what we like too. We like to see those younger guys step up and not be afraid to compete with the older guys,” said Ryan. “It's a way to make hard work fun. Everything we try to do we want to create competition, and this is a good way to do that.”