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Beating the heat

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(Rob Winner – rwinner@daily-chronicle.com )
NIU quarterback Ryan Morris hydrates himself between drills during the first day of practice last Thursday in DeKalb. Part of the Huskies’ training staff’s job is to make sure the players are constantly hydrated to avoid overheating and heat-related illnesses or worse.

DeKALB – Losing 10 pounds in a day sounds like a tempting product guarantee made on a late-night TV commercial.

But not for Northern Illinois assistant athletic trainer Kammy Powell, who takes the weight of every NIU football player seriously. Before a player can practice, he must step on a scale and be near his usual weight.

It is a preventative measure.

Powell doesn’t want to deal with any more heat-related illnesses like the ones that sent three players to the hospital for dehydration on a hot, humid Saturday afternoon. So weight is watched closely and water stations surround Huskie Stadium.

On Monday afternoon, players were given plenty of mandatory water breaks, as well.

“Dehydration leads to cramping where your body can’t respond,” Powell said. “You can get to full body cramps where we would have to send an athlete to the hospital. To avoid that we are very proactive and make sure our athletes drink enough. We tell them how much they have to drink per pound to get their weight back. We tell them to eat a good meal and salt their food to stay hydrated and safe during camp."

Powell has the power to keep a player on the sidelines, as Brandon Bice found out last year when he weighed in on the wrong side of the scale during camp. The senior defensive end is listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds but had lost 17 pounds in a practice and said he was at “233 or something crazy.”

The training staff had him drink two large sports drinks that he said were loaded with extra electrolytes. He felt full afterward but still had to wait to return to practice until his weight was normal. Bice figured he loses 10-12 pounds per practice, assumes he takes in 5,000-6,000 calories per day and always makes sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“Coaches aren’t too pleased if you have to sit out, so you just make sure to put salt on your food and drink even if you aren’t thirsty,” Bice said. “You’ve got to keep the fluids and a lot of salt in your body.”

For Huskies’ coach Jerry Kill orchestrating practice is the easy part of his job. The challenge comes with making sure the players are physically fit, well conditioned and consuming a well-balanced diet.

“We went over diet and what they should eat and drink,” Kill said. “We are constantly education kids during two-a-day camps. There is a lot more to it than football practice; that is the easy part. We monitor weight though because it is all about health, we try to keep our kids healthy.”

It is a far cry from Kill’s playing days.

“When I was playing we got salt pills and no water, they thought that was a great thing," Kill said. "I don’t know how we did it back then. Maybe we were just such bad athletes – I know I was – that there were no muscles to cramp up. Every 20 minutes I tell them to drink because we’ve got water out here all over the place. Kids are built different, this is a different era.”

An era when heat illnesses and heat-related deaths have happened in the NFL, NCAA and prep levels. Those are the headlines that NIU wants to avoid.

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