MORGANTOWN - The fact that West Virginia's offensive and defensive linemen have been tasked with honing their boxing skills as a method of training and conditioning this summer is not at all surprising.After all, doesn't line play essentially consist of one man against another in close quarters?Sure, there are other more complex elements involved, not the least of which is teamwork (can tag team wrestling be far behind?). And, of course, the most fundamental part of boxing isn't allowed on the football field. Balling a fist and striking an opponent in the face or the midsection often times will get a football player - lineman or otherwise - tossed from the field.But so many of boxing's fundamental skills are shared with football linemen. There's footwork, hand-to-hand combat and certainly conditioning. If a lineman can go three minutes in a boxing drill he can certainly develop the stamina to play in 10-second bursts 70 or 80 times in the 31/2 hours it takes to stage a football game."Hands, footwork, eye coordination, all that stuff [improves],'' West Virginia offensive tackle Quinton Spain said of adding boxing to the training regimen."It makes your hands better and it's good for your feet, too,'' tackle Pat Eger chimed in.Here's another thing about boxing, though: It breaks up the monotony.For backs and receivers on offense and linebackers and defensive backs on defense, summer is a mix of weight-room work, running and a lot of seven-on-seven drills - actual football (at least a kind of flag football version) that makes coming to work a bit less, well, work-like.For offensive and defensive linemen, the summer is about weight-room work and running. Yes, there's a chance to go outside and work as a unit on sets and footwork and the like, but more than anything it's just a lot of hard work.
Boxing breaks that up."Any type of new activity, we look forward to doing it,'' defensive end Will Clarke said. "And it's working us out, too.''Just as a point of information, the players aren't actually boxing, at least not against each other. They do their drills against a heavy bag or air, just as a boxer does without a sparring partner.Would they prefer a little more live action, maybe to hit someone for real?
"Nah,'' Spain laughed. "It's all good.''This boxing thing is new for most of the linemen, and it takes awhile to acclimate.
"This is my first time boxing,'' Spain said. "It's way different.''So, has anyone shown any real boxing potential?"I would say there are a lot of pretenders more than anything,'' Clarke said. "Maybe if you saw them maybe you'd see some Floyd Mayweather potential out there, but I haven't."A lot of guys try to throw haymakers and stuff, but they have to stay within their cylinder and hit the pad. It's all about the technique.''That doesn't mean, however, that there's not competition, at least the trash-talking kind."Quinton Spain likes to believe that he is the best boxer,'' Clarke said. "But Spain always says stuff like that.''
So far, the boxing has been limited to the linemen, but who is to say that might not change? After all, might not a cornerback playing bump-and-run coverage or a receiver facing the same benefit from a little hand-to-hand combat training? Or a linebacker who has to fight through a guard?Clarke imagined the possibilities. He can see little wide receiver Tavon Austin joining the fray, but knows that Austin would likely just fall back on what he does best."He'd probably do the same thing he does on the field,'' Clarke said. "He'd duck and try to come up and hit somebody.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.