tampabay.com

Workouts are college-prep

By BRYAN BURNS
Published June 22, 2007


While most of his classmates are snuggled comfortably in their beds, Justin Hickman answers the alarm clock.

A two-year starter at quarterback for Armwood High School who earned a scholarship to play football at Virginia Military Institute, Hickman awakens at 6:30 a.m. every day with one purpose: to win the starting quarterback's job at his new school.

Hickman lifts weights after breakfast and will pump iron for at least two hours. Then, it's off to Armwood's Lyle Flagg Field for speed work. Hickman needs to complete three 300-meter runs in less than 50 seconds each and three 150-meter runs in less than 25 seconds each, according to the training regimen VMI has prepared for him.

Around noon, with the blistering summer heat in full effect, Hickman meets his brother Brandon, a rising sophomore linebacker for Armwood, to run pass routes. Bubble screens. Skinny posts. Wheel routes. Brandon runs them all while Justin delivers the ball repeatedly with pinpoint accuracy, more than 100 times before they quit. Sometimes, they're joined by Marquise Branton, who rushed for 2, 200 yards and 22 touchdowns the past two years at Armwood and will play for Middle Tennessee State.

Every day, it's the same routine - five hours of grueling workouts.

"This is my summer job, " Hickman explains.

Of the dozens of college-bound Hillsborough County players who have football scholarships, Hickman is one of the few with a legitimate chance to see playing time immediately. VMI is short on quarterbacks, and coaches have told the incoming freshman he could start. The fact that VMI and Armwood both run the triple-option offense, albeit with different wrinkles, weighs heavily in Hickman's favor.

Hickman suffered a shoulder injury in Armwood's seventh game. The injury was so severe that a week after, Hickman couldn't bench press the 45-pound bar that holds the weights. Doctors recommended surgery, Hickman opted for rehab.

"I didn't want to do it this season because I wouldn't be able to compete for a starting job, " said Hickman, who instead will have the surgery after his freshman season.

Sean Callahan, Armwood's head football coach, said he hasn't seen much change in the way football players ready themselves for college since he started coaching. It's the determination of the player that seems to change from year to year, he said. "The colleges are doing a better job of getting the workouts they want done to the players, but it really comes down to who wants to outwork people, " Callahan said.

For Hickman and other college-bound players, there's no down time after the high school season. VMI, Hickman said, sent him a workout program. Branton gets a monthly phone call from Middle Tennessee State checking on the progress of his conditioning program.

The duo doesn't seem to mind the exhausting workouts.

"It feels real good to be running around out here with friends, " Branton said. "(Hickman and I) are real close, so this is fun for us."

"We got to know each other when we were freshman, " Hickman said. "We're pretty much best friends, so it's nice to have someone like him to work out with."