Tiger caretakers

Backstage team gives players support
Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:01 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Courtney Simpson prepares sandwiches for tight end Martin Rucker, left, and safety Scipio Daniels during lunch at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex. During preseason practices, the team eats three meals a day at the complex.

COLUMBIA- The team was letting coach Gary Pinkel down last week.

It couldn’t give him what he wanted.


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A spicy chicken sandwich.

There were none left, but more were cooking in the oven.

Pinkel could have chewed out the dining hall staff at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex. But he didn’t.

“He was pretty cordial,” said Jeff Melegrito, the athletic dining hall manager. “He said, ‘I’ll get it next time.’”

Pinkel understood. A breakdown was bound to occur. A restaurant is going to run out of food occasionally just like an offensive line is going to give up a sack or two.

But when their work is seamless, no one notices. The big men don’t get the glory when quarterback Chase Daniel throws a 70-yard touchdown bomb.

And neither do the people ensuring that players are prepared to withstand two grueling weeks of training camp: the sports medicine, strength and conditioning and dining hall staffs.

Director of sports medicine Rex Sharp and his team oversee the field during practice. When a player gets injured, they are immediately by his side.

But the trainers are also quick to brandish water bottles.

“Every time you can get a break,” center Adam Spieker said, “they’re over there with water bottles, just feeding you water.”

Sharp said he emphasizes hydration with athletes, especially before they take the field and after they cool down from drills. Despite the scorching heat index, not one player has cramped up or needed an IV during the last two years of practice, he said.

Some players didn’t get much of a break after Tuesday’s practice. The offensive and defensive linemen, kickers and linebackers immediately went to the weight room and had their workouts supervised by Pat Ivey, assistant athletic director for athletic performance.

Along with overseeing the team’s conditioning regimen, Ivey and his staff make sure the players are eating right. They go from table to table in the dining hall to make sure players’ plates are stacked with a mother’s favorite foods — colorful fruits and vegetables and lean sources of protein. Jana Heitmeyer, director of sports nutrition, collaborates with the dining hall staff to supply healthy menus. If the players want anything fried, they’ll have to flock to the midway at the state fair.

The players impress Melegrito.

“You think they come in and they’re just meat-and-potatoes guys,” he said. “But they seem to be very disciplined in what they can and can’t eat.”

Melegrito and his staff work around the clock to provide three meals for the team during preseason practices, arriving at 3:30 a.m. to get breakfast ready by 5:45. Among many items, they offer 15 varieties of fruit. The staff fills tubs full of sliced melon. The team puts away a lot of fruit every meal — 20 pounds of strawberries and 30 pounds of both watermelon and cantaloupe.

The meat and potatoes do show up on the menu occasionally. The dining hall turns into a steakhouse one night a week during camp, with the team consuming 150 to 200 pounds of beef.

Melegrito offers his primary beverage in four flavors — fruit punch, orange, riptide rush and lemon-lime. Players drink plenty of Gatorade, going through 100 gallons a day.

But that’s just in the dining hall, with a low-tech system of 10-gallon coolers. In the weight room, there’s a sports-drink bar.

Before starting their workouts after Tuesday’s practice, players lined up at the counter next to the rows of exercise equipment. They grabbed powder packets and dumped them into their 20-ounce Gatorade bottles. These specialized sodium supplements, called Gator Lytes, replenish their lost fluids.

Once their bottles are empty, players can go to the Gatorade dispensers offering orange, fierce grape and lemon-lime. A small sign taped to the machine encourages them to keep drinking. “Unleash hydration,” it reads.

The most impressive piece of technology is in a storage room off the weight room — the sleek, flat General Electric DXA machine. Heitmeyer said it’s used to measure athletes’ body composition and bone density. Based on the machine’s detailed readings, Heitmeyer can determine how a player can get healthier.

“It’s not based on a number on a scale,” she said, “but based on science.”

Players also use more elemental ways of tracking their bodies, referring to color-coded urine analysis charts to track their hydration levels, Ivey said.

All the focus on nutrition and hydration doesn’t curb the team’s collective sweet tooth, however. The dining hall does serve ice cream.

The Tigers’ favorite flavors are chocolate chip and rocky road, Melegrito said.

They work through 10 gallons at lunch every day.


  • Tailback Tony Temple returned to full-contact drills during Tuesday’s practice, but the Tigers lost one of Temple’s backups. Marcus Woods injured his right ankle during Monday’s scrimmage. He will wear a cast to protect the high ankle sprain until Monday. Sharp said he hopes Woods will return in time for the Sept. 1 opener against Illinois.
  • Tight end Jon Gissinger suffered a mild ankle sprain during Monday’s scrimmage as well, Sharp said. He could be back for Saturday’s scrimmage.

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