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HELL WEEK: That Says It All

August 28, 1986|BRIAN LANDMAN | Times Staff Writer

This week thousands of high school football players are becoming reacquainted with shoulder pads, helmets, tackling, getting knocked into the hard ground, sweating and sweating some more.

As coaches fondly say, it's a time for hard work and a little blood, sweat and tears.

There's a name for the grueling week in the scorching last days of August. No one is quite sure who coined it, but it fits: Hell Week.

"You look forward to it because you know the season will be starting soon," said Kirk Alexander, who attended Loyola High and is now a senior cornerback at UCLA. "But you also dread it. It's the final hurdle--and fortunately it lasts only a week."

But that week can seem like an eternity in purgatory, according to many prep football players.

"It is a Hell Week," said Kevin Mott, a senior defensive end at St. Monica. "It's non-stop conditioning and hard work. It's pretty torturous.

"The coaches run you as hard as they can. The name Hell Week really fits."

The California Interscholastic Federation has a mandatory three-day conditioning program, Aug. 25-27, before allowing anyone to put on pads for full-contact drills.

Anything goes.

In 1982, St. Monica Coach Tom Jessee took his team to Camp Pendleton, the Marine base near San Diego.

For six days, 29 players and six coaches slept in the barracks, were awakened by reveille at 5:15, ate with the Marines in the mess hall and had three practices a day.

While St. Monica, which doesn't have a football field, no longer indulges in such excursions, it still holds a three-day mini-camp, and the living-together concept is still in vogue.

Current St. Monica mentor Daniel Escalera, who coached for five years at Loyola High before returning to his alma mater in 1984, said the players will sleep at the gym, alias the "Mariner Hilton," for three nights and come together as a cohesive unit.

"Some people may think it sounds hokey, but it's a real family concept," Escalera said. "The purpose is to establish a team unity. And what we do we think is pretty successful."

A typical day begins at almost the crack of dawn. After breakfast, practice No. 1 at nearby John Adams Junior High School kicks off at 7:30 and runs until 10:30. After lunch, practice No. 2 lasts from 12:30-3:30. Finally, practice No. 3 goes from 5:30-8:30 and lights out is at 10.

St. Monica isn't the only parochial school that swears by the benefits of a camp. Since 1973, Loyola coaches have been fans of such practices. Loyola's camp is a weeklong venture during which players never leave school, practice three times a day for a total of about six hours and sleep in the gym.

"We're like a family after the camp," said Kai Kaluna, a junior offensive guard and nose guard. "It's hot and hard, but it's a lot of fun."

Catholic schools such as St. Monica, Loyola and Servite draw students from a vast area, so it is not practical to have them go home between practice sessions.

"It's been a success for us," said Jon Dawson, Loyola's athletic director and an assistant football coach. "It breaks down any financial or ethnic barriers.

"When you're out there three times a day, it doesn't matter if you're white or black or whether you arrived in a chauffeur-driven limousine or a bus. You're just another player suffering through the same thing as everyone else."

Players who have survived the ordeal of a camp swear by it.

"The team is so close because they go through living hell together," said Loyola's Chris Rising, a senior linebacker. "I can't think of a better way to do it."

Until two years ago, Servite had a camp. But Coach Leo Hand said that part of the gym was converted into classrooms and it now lacks the needed space for sleep-ins.

"We would still be doing it if it wasn't for the building situation," Hand said. "It was a tradition here and I'm sorry we couldn't perpetuate it."

Eric Smith, a junior linebacker at UCLA, half-smiling and half-grimacing, remembers the Hell Weeks he survived at Servite: "I never looked forward to it, but Hell Week was an exciting time. It was an elite thing for us.

"Not too many other schools were doing it, so it made Servite stand out. And it helped us draw together as a team."

Hand said he plans two or three two-hour practices a day, depending on the weather.

Despite three daily practices in heat and smog, some coaches do not consider camp week a Hell Week. They point out that the prep football season is now a year-round job.

After the season ends in December, most schools have a weightlifting and conditioning program that runs from January through April. Then spring practice starts, followed by the summer passing league and summer tournaments such as the Los Angeles Summer Games.

"We don't have a Hell Week," said Coach Hand. "Don't even use that term with us. The whole summer's hell.

But some feel even year-round football doesn't lessen the pain of Hell Week.

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