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Unrein Tackles His 'Job Interview' With Gusto : Charger Third-Round Pick Is Undaunted by Training Camp's 17-Hour Days

July 21, 1986|CHRIS COBBS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Rules are rules, so Terry Unrein has an alarm clock in his dorm room. But the Charger rookie doesn't plan to set it when he goes to bed each night at 11. He's sure he will wake up by 6 the next morning.

Unrein, a defensive tackle from Colorado State, has been thinking about training camp since he played his last college game last fall.

Although he has a few fears--every rookie fears being cut and being tested by veterans--oversleeping is not among them.

An honors student with a degree in business, Unrein vows not to doze off or get fuzzy-headed, even as the 17-hour days pile up and the mind begs for some form of relief.

"I know it's going to be draining and the coaches and the older players are going to be playing head games with you to see if you'll quit," Unrein said.

"But, let me tell you. I'm here to show what I can do. I plan to raise my family (he is married and has a year-old son) here in San Diego, and nothing and nobody is going to keep me from it. I want to be friends with other players, but I know I have to look at them as trying to take food out of my little boy's mouth, or take away his education."

Welcome to training camp.

The world's longest job interview, according to Charger assistant head coach Al Saunders.

For six weeks, from early morning until nearly midnight, the days will bring monotony, drudgery, pain and fatigue.

Players spend four hours daily on the field. More than three hours in classrooms. Nearly that long being taped and treated.

Every block, tackle and pass is filmed, then analyzed nightly by coaches. Somehow, even though only about half a dozen jobs may be open, players must get to an emotional peak for practices, scrimmages and exhibition games.

It may seem like the equivalent of boot camp to players, but there's a critical difference. The Charger coaches are not trying to strip away a man's individuality and form a new identity. They simply want to let each man's ability and stamina come through. The most consistently productive 45 players get the jobs.

"We want to help each player show his maximum physical prowess," Saunders said. "It's so true that a three-pound brain rules a 300-pound body. We want to encourage and support. We don't even try to eliminate anyone. A player's performance does that for us."

The barriers are formidable for rookies and free agents. The numbers are against them. In some cases, so are their own doubts and fears.

"There's a singleness of purposeness required," Saunders said, "and some players allow themselves to get distracted by the length of training camp.

"Other players get down on themselves and talk themselves out of a chance to make the team. They think they don't have a chance, even though physically they might really be in contention."

Unrein figures to be in contention physically, emotionally and mentally. A third-round draft choice, he stands 6-feet-5, weighs 277 pounds and, unlike a host of other rookies this year, he encouraged his agent to settle his contract early. That was a distraction he didn't want. He expects to make up any money he may have sacrificed now at the other end of his career.

But that's getting ahead of the story.

Unrein is tightly focused on the here and now.

"It's going to be a mental test, a physical test and a gut check," he said. "I know those things, but I'm not complaining. I mean, what would I rather be doing--hustling for a $20,000 job in marketing like some of my friends are doing?

"If I hear myself complaining about being tired in camp, I should feel guilty, because I realize how fortunate I am to be here."

Unrein said he is nervous but hopes that will make him perform better. He fears the unexpected--getting cut, losing games--but he doesn't come across as harboring any major doubts about his ability.

"I want to become a mental player, like Ed White," he said, referring to the recently retired San Diego guard. "Ed was no great physical specimen, but he was a very intelligent player. I'd like to become like that--and not take 10 years to do it, either. I want to make a living with my head in addition to my back."

Unrein knows his life is going to be programmed and directed from now until early September, and he accepts it. He's more concerned with dealing with the inevitable bad days on the field.

"The way I look at football, you're never as good or as bad as people say," Unrein said. "I know other players are going to be playing games, trying to strip away your confidence, but you can't let it happen.

"They'll grab your facemask or give you a shot in the back after a play is over. You can't be afraid of a scrap. I already got in a few at mini-camp. You can't walk away."

What he must improve on is taking a quick and explosive first step in pursuit of the passer or ball carrier. The San Diego defense is being schooled to pressure and blitz, and the linemen who play the most will be those who can get into the offensive backfield.

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