The Gainesville Leopards competed in a lineman challenge Monday in Sherman and the value of these events can’t be understated according to athletic director and head football coach James Polk.

It’s not just about physicality, but a strong mental fortitude as well.

Of course the goal is to win, and the Leopards did so when they hosted their own lineman challenge late in June, but moreover it is about building more than just muscles and strength.

“The goal is to win and see the kids compete when they’re not winning,” Polk said. “If you get into a habit of quitting, giving up or backing off just because you’re down, that’s what cowards do. It’s just like a track meet or powerlifting meet. You get points for each event and at the end, the team with the most amount of points wins.”

The events change from meet to meet, but when Gainesville hosted in late June, there were a multitude of different team-oriented and singular events.

“We did the tug of war, a deadlift ladder, a farmer’s walk relay, a stone stack and a deadlift stack and an obstacle course in the sandpit,” Polk said. “In the sandpit, we set the course up with boxes in a zigzag pattern and at each point you have to lift a 90-pound dumbbell to each box and stack them.”

The events often have a tangible correlation to the football field and Polk said most sports come down to what is called “leverage.”

Events such as the deadlift and sandbox relay gets players’ muscles thinking like football.

“The person with the best leverage has the best chance of winning,” Polk said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but that you have a better chance. I like these challenges because it’s a real-time preparation. You’re doing things you actually have to do to succeed. You’re going to have to fight for hand position and get your pad level lower than the other player.”

In the years prior to the lineman challenges, the summer time didn’t provide coaches with as much information to build their early football practice.

But now, Polk said he feels much better about where the team stands by the start of practice in August.

“The most I’ve seen it pay off is in the competing department honestly,” Polk said. “Before these were ever invented, you wonder in the summer time what August is going to be like. ‘I wonder if we’re going to be good. I wonder if we’re going to compete or be physical.’ Now, after we finish these next few weeks, I can think, ‘I know we’re going to do this or that.’ So it makes it easier for me to plan our workouts.”

Polk said the University Interscholastic League has come around to giving coaches opportunities to prepare their athletes for the heat, which has allowed the coaches to have a closer eye on workouts.

“You get to see them and if you see them, that means you’re involved with them and not wondering if the athletes are going to come back ready and in shape,” Polk said. “There are so many rules about being outside when it’s too hot. When all these heart attacks and heat strokes happened, the UIL knew they needed to do something about it.”

The ideal target for the lineman challenges boils down to the athletes having fun and to understand why summer workouts are important for success in the season.

That time spent focusing on conditioning according to Polk could be devoted to better things that help the team win in the long run.

“The last 10 minutes of each practice was spent on preparing them, but you see how that time adds up over a week and that’s instruction that we missed out on because we had to run them and get them in shape,” Polk said. “I’d rather instruct them and get them better at a specific skill. It’s wasted time.”

Patrick Hayslip can be reached at sports@gainesvilleregister.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip

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