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"Soup of the Day" Blog Post #1 - Going Camping

    * welcomes a new contributor to the site, Saints tight end Mark Campbell (also known as "Soup" to his closest friends). Throughout the 2008 season, Campbell will be giving Saints fans an inside look at life in Black and Gold through his "Soup of the Day" blog.  
  • *Entry #1 takes the fans through Mark's pre-camp prep and offers up some tips for those planning on making the trip to Jackson this summer.

*Training camp is here! Normally in my household, when "training camp" is said by someone, they're attacked like a pack of wolves on an injured animal. I don't want you to misunderstand me though. You could say "train" or "training." As in when my wife asked me to go see "Sex and the City," I said 'I can't honey. I have to go to the gym and train.' Or if you said "camp," that's alright too. I enjoy going camping every now and then with my buddies and some beer. The point is two words that are good, solid words just don't mix well together for a current player in the National Football League.

The truth is training camp is difficult but the most important time for each and every team as they finalize their rosters. With 10 years of camp experiences, I can easily tell you that no camp compares to ours in Jackson, Mississippi. For some unknown reason, the temperature goes up at least 20 degrees when the Saints arrive. The air grows thicker so you have to gasp for breath. Combine that with a gruesome schedule and the team effort of Will Smith and Charles Grant trying to rip my head off, I have just scratched the surface of my next three weeks in Jackson. I get it though. It's hard for a reason.

There have been four new head coaches in my playing career. Generally that means each coach implemented an extremely difficult initial training camp. This process lets the new coaches see what kind of guys they have and what they're made of. It also "weeds out" the kind of guys they don't want. After the initial year, things tend to settle down as players understand what the coaches want and how to do it. Consequently, the coaches know the players and their strengths and weaknesses. Some of this holds true with the Saints and some of it does not.

Although there is a relationship built between coaches and players (aside from the new ones) there is another factor. We practice and prepare at a CHAMPIONSHIP caliber. That's the difference that makes this camp the hardest. We do what we feel we have to for a chance to reach the Super Bowl. Hence, although Coach Payton is into his 3rd year, my theory of camp getting easier after the coach's 1st year is officially garbage. To be where we want to be, we have to come in shape. We have to be ready.

Years ago, the NFL needed training camp to not only find out the make-up of their team but also to actually train. These guys didn't have the offseason program that we use today. They had jobs to support their families. With a busy schedule and home life, training was obscure. These are the guys who brought our game to where it is now. I can't even imagine trying to run off a beer belly weeks before camp.

In today's game, we train year-round but especially in the weeks prior to camp because it's SERIOUS. How bad do you want the Super Bowl ring? How bad do you want to succeed? How bad do you want to make the team? I train for strength, speed, power, agility, and to stay healthy and durable. I also train my mind in preparation for the battles that soon will unfold over a long season. I train for an edge over the competition.

So, every year I create a guideline before camp to make sure I am on target and mentally prepared. The 2008 list goes as follows:

1) Come in in shape. I can arrive in shape but can't arrive in playing shape. There's only one way to do that and that's to play the game in a competitive environment. Camp sounds perfect to do just that. Also, if you can't pass the conditioning test, you get crushed by having to run it each morning until you pass it. Believe me, that's not good.

2) Be under your weight assignment. Like #1, if you didn't make your weight goal, you have to get up each morning and condition until you make your weight assignment. This could be especially hard for some of our plump guys. Again, not good and I would not advise this.

3) Have a sun tan. For the pale guys, this is important. You don't want to go through all the enduring facets of camp with a sunburn. Therefore, due to this strict guideline, I must relax by the pool the weeks prior to work on my base tan. Truly sound advice here. Hope you read this Mark Simoneau.

4) Get all your house bills taken care of. The last thing you want is Entergy calling you five times a day threatening to turn your lights off. Enough said.

5) Make sure your dorm will be sweet. Don't overlook the hour a day you get to relax in your dorm room. This is our time to ourselves. The important things are a TV, laptop, a long blanket to cover my feet that will hang off the bed, a fluffy pillow, and a DVD player with movies. Make the time you have for yourself comfortable. You get the gist here.

6) Pack nice clothes and/or suit. Every year this happens. Coach will spring something on us that we need nice clothes for and guys scramble for the Men's Wearhouse to find clothes that fit. I will not lie to you on this one. I have seen some bad outfits on teammates due to lack of preparation. Another gut shot in life to those too tall or too big for normal stores.

7) Make calls to friends and family. When the whirlwind of camp starts, it's hard to communicate with all the people you would like to talk to. Personally, I must have a phone phobia during camp. I think it goes back to the days where my mom hit me with a yardstick because I was on the landline too long making a long distance call. Seriously though, the time I have off I need to relax. That means I have time for my wife and son, and maybe Mom and Dad. I said maybe Mom.

8) See as many movies as possible. I would say that within two weeks of camp I start getting a little crazy. This means I will completely zone out at any time during the day and start focusing on my season. It also means I need more outlets for all my anxiety. Movies are perfect for me. I love movies anyway but they can give me a couple hours that take me away from any stress in my life. I'm a huge movie guy so this plays a big role for me. I also pick a collection or genre for time I have off during training camp. For instance, last year was a big Stallone theme. This year I am leaning to Harrison Ford. (All the Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Blade Runner, etc.). From what I hear, Kevin Mangum, our Louisiana Hall of Fame trainer, does this as well. He has chosen Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, Ghost) for his 2008 theme.

9) Get your feet right. This means toughen your feet. There are a million blisters to be had if you don't get the skin on the bottom of your feet tough. I go for walks at night barefooted for about two weeks prior to camp. This usually works but it's no guarantee. I know Ernie Conwell's technique was to walk in hot sand. This is an often overlooked cautionary measure but it is well worth it. If you can't run, you can't play. Don't even get me started about my thoughtful measures of toe care during the season.

10) Lastly, kiss your family goodbye. I think this is harder for the guys with kids. My son is 2½ so he doesn't understand that Daddy is leaving for a long time. He thinks I am going to get him some cakes or ice cream. The person who really cries is Mom. After dissecting this, I realized it's not because I am leaving for a long time but rather that she has to take care of the little man all by herself while being four months pregnant. Ask any player or coach and they will tell you that this business is very hard on the significant others in our lives. There has to be a lot of support for us to succeed. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful wife in my corner.

Well…I guess I should start packing the car for my drive to Jackson. It's going to be a great year. I can feel it in my bones. Hopefully you can follow the guidelines I set forth and you'll have a chance for training camp greatness. Don't forget, if you don't have that base tan, make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen with you to watch practice. We appreciate all your support and we will see you at training camp!

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