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Football players get no summer vacation

Though summer has not officially begun, it is the time of year for college students to waste their days at pool parties, barbecues and trips home.

Unless, of course, you're playing college football, which means summer is really no different than the fall — except there are no games to play. It's a steady diet of weightlifting, running and practice.

No family vacations for players who often attend school far from home.

No trips home for players who typically miss Thanksgiving and, likely, Christmas because of football.

No home-cooked meals from mom. No developing bad habits.

"That's the problem. You start getting lazy, sitting on the couch, eating more and more, getting less and less activity," Boise State senior wide receiver Jerard Rabb said.

College football, once a sport played in the fall, is now a 12-month obsession. With seemingly more and more at stake — coaches salaries continue to rise as do bowl payouts and professional contracts — the offseason has become a misnomer.

Boise State players are working out in the weight room under the tutelage of new strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha.

The players organize their own practices, which are run similarly to regular practices with individual work and team drills.

"It's a lot different than high school, where we had that break between sports and usually had summer vacation," said BSU offensive lineman Tad Miller, who attended Bishop Kelly. "Here there's really no break. You're working hard all summer long, getting ready for the season."

These "voluntary" workouts are really anything but. Peer pressure compels the players to attend, as does the hope for playing time. Coaches, even if they're not allowed to be at workouts, know who attends and who doesn't.

"The stuff is not mandatory, but they know what they need to do," BSU head coach Chris Petersen said.

They need to do it because the Broncos are not alone. Similar workout plans are being followed all over the country.

"I'm pretty sure every football team around the country is working just as hard as we are," Miller said.

But to what end?

Certainly the year-round training is good for teams and fans. It leads to a higher-caliber athlete and better played games. But the players, most of whom have little hope of ever playing professionally and some of whom have little hope of ever playing for their college team, aren't necessarily benefitting from the extra workouts.

At least, after several high-profile deaths during summer workouts, the NCAA and football programs are looking to strike a better balance.

"The NCAA is continuously changing things. People are paying attention to it," Petersen said. "Coaches are the most resourceful guys out there. So if there's a way to get around something, they're going to get around it. They have to keep tweaking it to get it right for the student-athlete."

The NCAA requires that football players have eight weeks off throughout the course of the year, which seems like a lot until you realize that several of the weeks correspond to finals and that it's rare for such a break to last more than a week.

"They want to break it up and make sure we don't go home and not do anything for five or six weeks," Rabb said.

The constant activity leads to better-conditioned players, one reason teams have been able to cut down the number of rigorous two-a-days during fall camp.

And coaches often talk about the summer as a time for team building, where players — away from the eyes of coaches — push and prod each other. Leaders emerge. Camaraderie develops. A winning edge is refined.

"It's something you come to accept. The punishment you've got to take to be great," Miller said. "You have to do the work that's necessary to be champions."

That's the trade-off. Players sacrifice the last summer breaks of their lives. They sacrifice an internship or trade a family vacation for another summer of conditioning.

The pool parties and barbecues have to wait because football season is never over.

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