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Summer conditioning: Eagles pull their own weight in the offseason
Riverside Military Academy football coach Scot Sloan gets his players warmed up before Thursday evening practices at the school’s practice field. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Riverside Military Academy senior Alex O’Donnell knew it would be to his advantage to work diligently on getting stronger over the summer, even if he was far removed from the rest of the Eagles’ football program.

O’Donnell, a first-year Riverside cadet, was in the weight room six days a week in his hometown of Toronto, trying to get in prime physical condition for his arrival to the private military school in Gainesville. He also attended summer quarterback camps to learn the ropes before he reported for his first week of practice with the Eagles.

“As a player, you have to have the self drive to become better,” O’Donnell said. “I was in the gym every day working on getting stronger.”

O’Donnell is representative of a school with football players that don’t live within any geographical boundaries. Some players, like O’Donnell, don’t live in the United States.

With those circumstances, it is easy to see why training for football season during the summer for Riverside is much different than public schools that have the advantage of going through workouts together during the summer.

“You just have to be willing to work very hard over the summer and focus on being in shape for football,” O’Donnell said.

While Riverside football players are able to use the school’s weightlifting facilities during the summer, most don’t live close enough to make that a feasible option. As a result, first-year Eagles coach Scot Sloan has to trust the players to stick with their conditioning while back at home during the offseason.

Before players reported to campus last Saturday, Sloan’s only ways to touch base with those too far away to work out on campus was through phone calls, text messages and e-mails.

“When they report to campus, they do a fitness test like what we did when I coached at Georgia Southern,” Sloan said. “There’s no way for me to regulate how they work out over the summer, but when they come back, it is easy to know if they sold me a bill of goods with how much they were working out.”

Eagles senior tight end Brandon McKinney, from Douglasville, says it is really not as hard to stay focused on working out while home for the summer. As a returning cadet, he knows that it is a waste of time to show up back at school out of shape. He knows the window of opportunity to work out together is much smaller than most schools before the regular season starts.

“It is harder for us because we don’t have much time to work out together and catch up,” McKinney said. “We can’t afford to waste time in practice running gassers.”

While McKinney was working out most of the time away from campus, he also tried to make it to Riverside about twice each week to work out with the players that live in the area. According to McKinney, less than half of Riverside’s football program was able to be in the school’s weight room working out this offseason.

McKinney had another added incentive to stay in shape this summer: He’s playing for a Division-I football scholarship.

“I took our workouts serious this summer,” McKinney said. “I tried to stay in shape by running, doing push-ups and working out in the gym.”

With practice underway now for Riverside Military, Sloan says there is still room for improvement in their physical conditioning. He says there is little room to waste time as the Eagles have to implement their offensive and defensive schemes, formations, kicking game, special teams all in four weeks before the season opens at Elbert County on Aug. 28.

“If we’re not in shape, then we’re going to play ourselves into shape,” Sloan said.

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