For Jack Coan and Ethan Wiederkehr, summer camp 2017 was anything but a leisurely vacation. No social media photos from the lake or pool. No campfire singalongs. More like a four-week stretch of 12-hour days with a singular purpose: Are you ready for some college football?
A typical day for Coan, a Sayville graduate and freshman quarterback at Wisconsin, and Wiederkehr, a Shoreham-Wading River graduate and freshman offensive lineman at Northwestern, began with the alarm ringing at about 6 a.m. Breakfast was at 7, followed by injury rehab, active stretching, meetings, walk-throughs and then practice, which generally lasted from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Cold-tub sessions and recovery stretches preceded lunch break, which lasted until 3:45 p.m. Late-afternoon position meetings and some walk-throughs took players to dinner at 7. After the hearty meal, Coan liked to watch additional video. Lights out usually was between 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Early to bed, early to rise, opens wide a freshman’s eyes.
“It’s just been an amazing experience so far,” Coan said. “You go from playing with high school kids to playing with some guys who are going to be future NFL stars. It’s been crazy.”
It’s also been quite a leap from small-town, small-school football to the big-time Big Ten.
“All the guys were used to being ‘the guy’ from wherever you’re from,” Coan said. “Then you come here and you’re low on the totem pole. Everyone just thinks of you as a little freshman and doesn’t pay much attention to you. It’s definitely a transition. But you’ve got to learn it and do all the dirty work to work your way up.”
Coan, who is 6-3, 200 pounds, has done that. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst on Thursday named him the No. 2 quarterback behind incumbent starter Alex Hornibrook and ahead of redshirt freshman Kare Lyles. That’s quite an accomplishment, given that most Big Ten freshmen wind up being redshirted. The Badgers’ season opens Sept. 1 with a home game against Utah State.
“I love competing against other guys because it brings out the best in me,” Coan said. “It’s definitely a change not being ‘the guy’ right now, and obviously I want to be that guy and be the best. I feel the only competition has got to be you versus yourself. The only way you get better is if you push yourself. Toward the end of camp [Monday], I felt more comfortable with the reads, going through my progressions and running the offense.”
Wiederkehr, whose weight dropped from 290 to 275 after an arduous summer training regimen, said he expects to redshirt this season — which begins Sept. 2 when the Wildcats host Nevada — and concentrate on adding what he called “good weight” and packing on more muscle. “I’m actually one of the lighter guys now,” he said with a laugh. “They haven’t mentioned it much, but from my experiences so far, it’s more than likely that I’ll redshirt. You get that extra year of experience and I think it’ll end up being a positive for me.”
He said he struggled initially.
“My first week was definitely overwhelming, but now I feel like I’m getting better,” Wiederkehr said. “The physicality and the speed of the game is a major jump and I’m still getting used to it. I’ve learned it’s the little things that separate you from the other guys.”
Coan also had to make some adjustments.
“Obviously, the playbook and the speed of the game are a lot different,” he said. “We’ve got a million different formations and protections and reads. There’s a lot to learn. I’ve really had to work on my anticipation. You’ve got to throw the ball early, before the receivers are out of their break, or the ball is getting deflected or it’s getting picked. Know the offense and know your reads.”
And know your place.
“We went to camp last week in Kenosha [Wisconsin] and they made the freshmen do some singing and dancing challenges,” Wiederkehr said. “I was nervous at first. We had rap battles and you had to do your own step dance to some Irish music. After a while, it was kind of fun. I don’t know what I was doing up there, but all the freshmen were in the same boat. Just let loose and have fun with it.”
That’s the way Coan approached his karaoke night solo. “I had to get up and sing for the whole team,” he said. “I sang ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel. A classic. You just go with it. Everyone got booed off the stage at some point. It was pretty funny.”
These days, Coan and Wiederkehr are no longer in a New York State of Mind.