On Tuesday, Tennessee opens its preseason football camp, sure to be replete with grueling conditioning drills and hard-hitting practices and scrimmages in the stifling heat and humidity of Knoxville in August.
Those occasional two-a-day practices can leave the participants drained.
For four members of the Volunteers’ football team, though, they might not seem so bad.
After all, they’ve been through “The Special.”
Chris Walker, Chad Cunningham, Daniel Lincoln and Nick Reveiz participated in an Athletes in Action camp shortly after spring semester finals at Tennessee.
“I can say it was the best experience of my life,” Walker said.
Held on the campus of Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo., the event drew athletes from colleges and universities around the country.
“There were guys there from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Florida State, kickers, athletes, football players, track, volleyball, whatever,” Lincoln said.
“Being able to share things with other athletes about adversity or hardships they’ve faced, you learn a lot.”
The football quartet was part of an 18-person contingent from UT that included Lady Vols basketball players Angie Bjorklund and Alicia Manning.
“We were competing every day,” Walker said. “They wanted us to use our competitive spirit in our sport for God.”
None of those competitions was more grueling than “The Special,” a succession of races, games and competitions that lasted more than 18 consecutive hours.
“You didn’t eat or sleep during it,” Lincoln noted.
“The Special” included basketball, a swimming relay, ultimate Frisbee, calisthenics and other relay races.
Walker, recovering from knee surgery at the time, could not participate in the actual competition.
“I did everything with them. I ran around with them and did the obstacle course,” Walker said. “I was with them for the whole 18 hours that they were doing stuff.
“It just broke us down to the point that we couldn’t depend on anything on this earth and no words could help anybody,” the Vols’ defensive end added. “Leaning on God was the only thing that we could do. It broke a lot of people down.”
The weeklong camp also included a run up a mountain then back down.
“That mountain is so steep and the elevation was crazy,” Walker recalled.
The experience forged a bond among the four UT football players. According to Walker, it also put the game in perspective.
“It’s easy to get caught up in sport, period, and putting sport at the top of everything, just because that’s all we know,” he said. “Easily, football gets put on a pedestal above everything else.”
Especially in the Southeastern Conference.
And while the Vols have a figurative mountain to climb to return to their previous level of prominence, for these four campers, how hard can that be after successfully ascending an actual mountain?
John Moorehouse covers University of Tennessee football for the Times-News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.