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Practice Starts, Matadors Pour It On

College football: Northridge sweats through two-a-days in 100-degree heat with Air Force game looming Sept. 2.

August 16, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And so perspiration begins to pour from the collective brow of the Cal State Northridge football team.

More than 70 players are in pads on the Matador practice field this week, laboring through two-a-day workouts commonly known as "Hell Week."

It's a time when players perspire like no other while whipping themselves into shape for the opening game.

No sweat? Anything but.

"Out here, in this heat, the morning practice is the worst," receiver Gil Rodriguez said. "You're looking at 101 degrees and then you get sweat in your eyes and you're trying to catch the ball. That's hell."

That's football in August.

"I don't think anyone out here likes this," Rodriguez said, moments before leading his teammates in pre-practice stretching. "But it brings us closer together and unites us as a team. It's something everybody in the country has to go through, and we'll endure."

Rodriguez, a senior and projected starter, reported to camp, he says, in the best shape of his life, having toned his 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame during the off-season in the high altitude of New Mexico.

Others have a few pounds to shed.

Northridge opens Sept. 2 against Air Force at Colorado Springs before entering its final season in the Big Sky Conference.

The Matadors, tied for fifth in the Big Sky at 4-4 last season, are tabbed to finish sixth by coaches and media but hope to prove the critics wrong.

"Last year, I think some of the guys got off track a bit with conditioning and strength," Coach Jeff Kearin said. "This team, at the end of last season, really committed themselves to coming back in the best shape of their lives. But the big thing was, 'Are we going to talk about it, or are we going to do it?'

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say I think we're in better shape than we have been and we'll have fewer injuries."

*

Fullback Crayton Milton came to camp at 6 feet, 270 pounds, but Kearin said he is not alarmed.

"He came back a lot heavier than I know he wanted to, certainly a lot heavier than I wanted him to," Kearin said. "However, I will say this much: He still runs well and he catches the ball, probably, the best out of the backfield."

Kearin has said Northridge will elevate the role of fullback this season and Milton figures to be in the thick of things.

"I had a couple of carries in spring ball, but all I did last year, basically, was block," Milton said. "If I get an occasional carry this year, I'll be happy with that. If I catch a pass in the flat, I'll be really happy.

"I'll be ready by the time the season comes around. A lot of the guys have to lose weight."

Alan Taylor a 5-7, 175-pound sophomore who rushed for 133 yards last season, returns as the team's most experienced ballcarrier and likely candidate to replace departed Jaumal Bradley at tailback.

"We have three really good running backs," Taylor said.

*

Northridge continues open two-a-day workouts through next week, with the annual intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 26 at North Campus Stadium.

Practices usually are at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. There will be a 7 p.m. practice Thursday.

*

Ramsey Venner, a 6-6, 250-pound defensive end and transfer from Fresno State, was projected to make an immediate impact. But Kearin said Venner is ineligible "because of NCAA issues," and likely will not play this season.

Receiver Joe Gilliam, who caught 25 passes last season, has left Northridge because of academic reasons and is attending Pierce.

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