Oklahoma football head coach Brent Venables had that look in his eye when he talked about the opening five days of fall training camp.
With the look of anticipation, he became more animated in setting up what was about to come in the Sooners mental and physical preparation for the 2022 season, now just three weeks off.
Speaking with reporters earlier this week in his regularly scheduled press conference, Venables acknowledged that he likes where the Sooners are at in their progress through spring ball, the summer months and through the opening week of fall practice. There has been a lot to learn and become comfortable with, including the introduction of a new playbook, new faces, both in the roster and in the coaching staff, all while building a new culture and a new way of doing things.
The Sooners are in a good place right now, according to their head coach, and that’s a good thing because the next couple of weeks is when we find out the true character of this team and whether it has a championship makeup.
“The next 10 days should be the hardest 10 days of the whole season,” Venables said this week. Nothing compares to it. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, it’s going to be tough.”
The OU head coach said what they are asking the players to do is really, really hard and the only way something like this will work is if the team totally buys in. But he feels the players are mentally right and up for the challenge.
“We’re going down to the rugby fields,” Venables said, “and I can’t wait. It’s hotter down there. You’re not as insulated down there. The ground is harder. When you fall, it feels different. The smell of the grass is different. It’s hard to get there. It’s hard to get back. Nothing is convenient. We’re going to go down there and grind it up.”
The Sooner players are up to it, their head coach believes, because of the hard work they’ve put in for the past eight months. “The guys have a genuine edge to them right now, ” Venables said. “They’re hungry. I love the engagement of this group of players.”
Venables and his coaching staff have from the start emphasized the need for OU to become more physical and to do everything with a purpose, and that message has gotten through.
“Physicality’s got to be at an all-time high,” Venables said this week. “It’s as good as it’s ever been on a practice field in Norman. That’s what it’s going to take to have a true, deep-seated championship strain to them with everything.”
The push is on. The Sooner coaches are going to be asking a lot from the players the next 8 to 10 days and they’re looking to see who has what it takes.
The work is the reward, and Venables and his staff are banking that the work they put in now — and the resulting camaraderie, chemistry and cohesion — will pay big dividends through the season.