From Metallica to Lil Jon, nothing gives the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football practice the early-morning jolt players need to stay energized for two-plus hours each day better than music blaring across Scrappy Moore Field at somewhere near jet-engine decibels.
From the time players arrive to begin stretching at 6:30 a.m., whether it's Lil Jon's gravelly voice screaming, "Turned down for what!" or screeching heavy metal guitars, a constant stream of music is pumped through a pair of 4-foot speakers aimed at the field throughout each drill.
"It helps a lot because it's not just the sound of crickets and coaches yelling at you that early," junior quarterback Jacob Huesman said. "Whenever you get one of those fast songs going, it helps to wake you up and get you going.
"I don't think Coach [Russ] Huesman is real fond of the rap music that plays. He and I are more country music guys. But when I'm not in a rep I find myself bobbing my head a lot of times. I know some of the rap songs that come on, but Eric Church is my guy. I remember the song 'Two Pink Lines' came on earlier and I was singing along while I was jogging back down the field for special teams."
There are few wasted motions during the Mocs' two-plus hours of practice each day, but coaches believed continuous music would help energize the early starts and ease the grind of a preseason camp in which the team has one off day in a 22-day span, including four two-a-day sessions.
The team began playing music during practice last season, renting speakers from the media resource department. But during the offseason the program raised enough money to install speakers in the locker room and also two portable speakers to use on the practice field.
"It gets us going, gets everybody pumped up," said defensive end Keionta Davis. "Everybody likes something different, but any kind of music helps you get over the fact that you're out here so early and makes you feel good.
"I know when it's the offensive line's turn to pick, it's going to be country, but I love my teammates so I accept their music and they accept ours. I don't know the words and I don't think I'll be downloading any of it, but I'll bob my head to a couple of songs every now and then or do a little dance to it."
The coaches even take requests. Sort of. Actually, Coach Huesman told the team that each position will take turns choosing what style of music will be played throughout the next day's practice, and support staffer Alex Schnitzer then adds deejay to his laundry list of daily duties.
But not wanting to take any chances on the first day, Coach Huesman hedged his bets by giving the offensive line first choice.
"I knew they'd pick country music, so they went first," he joked, adding that he can't imagine music during practice when he played at UTC. "I don't think they had speakers like that back when I played. I could take it or leave it, but if the kids like it and it's not a distraction, I'm good with it.
"We did it for the last couple of years I was at Richmond, and I left practice every day with a headache. But it gets the kids juiced up. The only [song] I ever hear normally is 'Florida/Georgia Line.' For some reason when that one pops up I recognize it, but the rest of them I don't know."
On days hip-hop is played the bass rattles in one's chest and heads are bobbing along the sideline where players rest between their turns in the rotation. Schnitzer also has to serve as lyrics police and be on his toes in case a player has slipped in a song with salty language. And he's learned to keep a good mix, similar to a high school dance, even adding an occasional slow song. Or as one assistant joked, "A little somethin' for the ladies."
Slowing the tempo did lead to one of the more comical moments of camp so far, when a sweat-soaked 280-pound defensive lineman closed his eyes during a break and, as if there was no one else around, sang along to John Legend's heartfelt lyrics, "Love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections. Give your aahllll to me, I'll give my aaahhlllll to you!"
"You catch some of the guys you wouldn't expect to bust out singing out here or in the locker room," defensive lineman Zack Rayl said with a laugh. "I'm usually a country music guy, but I think I can dance pretty good and I like to vibe to the hip-hop stuff, so I'll bob my head or raise my arms and dance to it. It's a good way to keep everybody loose."
Fullback Taharin Tyson couldn't resist bouncing on his toes and shaking his hips as he sang along to "Teach me how to Dougie" Saturday morning, then laughing when he realized a few temmates were watching.
And if the season goes well, the Mocs are hoping to live out the lyrics from Trinidad James' "Gold All in My Ring," which is one of the songs on repeat at practice.
"It's fun for us coaches because we're out here not knowing any of the songs but we're dancing and trying to get the guys energized and going and fired up," said receivers coach Will Healy. "It's amazing to me. It's all about motivating them and getting an edge. It gets their mind off how hard camp is."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...