There are areas of a football game that practice, film and meetings simply can’t prepare a team for.
So, for the third straight season, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson carved out a day to rehearse what it’s like, producing a mock game inside of City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium. They practiced running onto the field, standing on the sideline, substituting and getting in and out of various kicking teams.
Those are the miniscule details that get overlooked during the grind of camp, but need to be second-nature on Saturdays.
With construction still being completed on the Green Wave’s new on-campus home — Yulman Stadium — the trip to Mid City served as another reminder routines don’t change despite environments shifting.
“We do (a mock game) every year because there are so many new kids and it’s a new stadium and there are a whole bunch of new stadiums that we are going to go into,” Johnson said. “I think it’s important just to play out how you come out, how you do warm-ups and what teams you have as far as kickoff return team, onside kick team, who is on ones and twos. We just want to get all of that done.”
Simultaneously, it serves a not-so-subtle reminder that the seasons is rapidly approaching and the mental shift from preseason camp into game week is on the horizon.
On Monday, Tulane began initial preparations for its season opener at Tulsa on Aug. 28, starting with film and moving into some early scout team work. By Tuesday, Johnson made it clear the season is in full swing.
Rather than competing with a teammate for depth chart position, the focus now is on how to beat the Golden Hurricane, in both schools’ first game as members of the American Athletic Conference.
“The reality of it all is that it’s now time to play football against somebody else,” Johnson said. “So from now on, this is the cutoff point. We are working on Tulsa. The guys know who we are playing.”
The mock game serves particular importance to freshmen; especially those competing for starting spots trying visualize the heightened concept of college football. The practice allows them not to sweat the operations of a game, since it’s already been covered.
It’s also a turning point for some freshmen who have been inundated for the past month with so much football minutiae and intricacies that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the ultimate goal.
“There’s a sense of reality to it now and you can really start to see what you’ve been working toward,” said freshman Rae-Juan Marbley, who is in a competition to earn the starting nod at middle linebacker. “You run out there and look up in the stands and picture where you’re going to be. It kind of put it all into a real perspective.
“It’s completely different from high school, even though the field is the same length and I know they play high school games where we were today. You just have the feel and know that at this time I last year I couldn’t wait to get to Tulane and I’ve got the green and white cleats and helmets and it’s all very real.”
The message has also translated to coaches, who have been told to trim their position groups into those available for the travel squad and shift film study from simply viewing practice to looking at film of upcoming opponents.
It’s a particularly difficult task when special teams is considered, since so many positions remain open on the coverage and return teams.
“We have some coaches who are way, way, way over with the number of players,” Johnson said. “So, I may travel some, but let me tell you, they are not getting in the game.”
Regardless of who makes the list and who doesn’t, with less than a week of practice remaining before Tulane boards the plane for Tulsa, the grind of preseason camp is subsiding and the excitement of the season is beckoning.
A mock game isn’t quite the real thing, but it was close enough to get the Green Wave’s attention.
“It really got me fired up going through that again today,” sophomore starting defensive tackle Tanzel Smart said. “I’m just ready to go and I want to hit a quarterback and hit someone who isn’t on our team.”