It’s hot. The turf not only reflects the sunlight and causes a glare, but it deflects the heat back up.
It feels warmer than 90 degrees because the sun bakes you from above and from the turf below.
But, standing there with the city skyline over their shoulders and a MARTA train rolling by, are the players on Georgia State’s defense, attentively listening to different position coaches as if were a breezy, spring day.
Most of the players are stripped down to exercise pants. Some are also wearing a compression shirt. Sweat covers each player. The black beads from the turf cover their backs, chests, arms and legs, making the players look like they just stepped out of the tick-infested waters of some steamy, exotic river.
The players aren’t complaining. In fact, after the session is over, a few stick around to do more drills.
His players ignoring the heat and ignoring their fatigue, perhaps that’s why Georgia State football coach Trent Miles looks (losing weight) and sounds (good jokes) happier than I’ve seen since perhaps his first day on the job 3 1/2 years ago.
He is happy because this is the culture that he has been trying to instill in the team since he took over in Dec. 2012.
Between then and Tuesday have been the lows of a no-win and a one-win season. Columnists, including those at the AJC, questioned the wisdom of starting a program. It was, and some would say remains, a valid question.
But some of those answers began to come last year when the team ran off a four-game win streak, punctuated by a demolition of rival Georgia Southern in Statesboro, and qualified for its first bowl game.
The Panthers were beaten by San Jose State to finish 6-7, making the fifth consecutive year it has failed to post a winning record since going 6-5 in its inaugural 2010 season.
Miles took a few minutes on Monday to discuss how the culture that he and his assistants have been trying to install since the day he was hired is paying dividends.
Q: Go through the offseason schedule for me.
A: They lift Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays, Thursdays we get an hour each day of film study and then they come out and do football conditioning with the position coaches for about an hour.
We get them for about eight hours a week.
The captains work out voluntarily on Saturdays. I’ve heard it’s extremely well-attended.
They are basically working six days a week. From what I’ve seen physically I’m really excited about the gains that they have made.
Q: How does the enthusiasm and the results you are seeing in the workout program compare to your previous years here?
A: Higher. There’s more. They’ve gotten a little taste. They are hungry. They’ve gotten a taste of success. They got to test drive the Benz and said, “Wow, that’s a really nice vehicle. Lot better than the Ford Pinto.” We were a Ford Pinto.
Now that they’ve gotten a test drive. They like the winning part.
It’s all culture. Like I said when I got here, it’s about teaching them how to compete, and then how to compete to win, and then how to win.
All that time, you are building your culture.
It’s not me coming out here and demanding that they do something. If anything, I’m having to tell them to cut back.
Q: It’s how it was at the beginning, you were having to tell them?
A: Oh yeah, because they have to learn the culture. Everybody’s culture is different. Once you have developed team leadership and have guys who have bought into your culture, they are the ones that are running it: the Robert Davises, the Penny Harts, the Keith Ruckers, the Bryan Williams, Shawanye (Lawrence), Mackendy (Cheridor).
They are the ones grabbing each other and saying we need to do extra. It’s not coming from us.
That’s the culture.
I hear them, if you walk through that locker room right now, they are reminding each other, “Make sure you go to class. Make sure you go eat lunch. Make sure you are doing what is expected of our program.”
You are hearing that from the players, so that means you have leadership and you have a culture that has been developed. It’s a player-owned, player-invested culture.
Q: Looking at some of the defensive guys walking off the field, some of them look significantly larger and therefore stronger than last summer. Who are some of the guys that are popping out to you?
A: Alex Stoehr is in the best shape of his life. He’s really gotten himself into good condition. So has Dom Roldan. Robert Davis weighs 227 pounds and doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him and runs faster and quicker than he ever has.
There are a lot of guys. They are all working their tails off.
It’s very obvious the ones that don’t. The ones that aren’t working out hard are getting called out by their teammates. They don’t have to get called out by the coaches.
You don’t have that issue right now.
What it comes down to us is being as strong and in as good a shape as we can be, and mentally fresh, and then going out and executing.