The pit helps Mesa FB players prepare to return to practice

Mesa State College quarterback Michael Mankoff, left, and linebacker Jake Bruno do helmet push-ups on the sidelines of practice after being injured. Injuries are not giving Mesa State players time off; instead, they’re doing drills to help strengthen and retrain their muscles.



When a Mesa State College football player goes down with an injury, everyone on the team knows what’s next: The pit.

Senior wide receiver Ricky Noble knows it too well, starting a second consecutive season rehabilitating an injury in the pit.

“The first (thought) was ‘not again,’ ” said Noble, who has a partially torn ligament in his right knee. The wide receiver had a broken finger last year.

The pit is an area off the Bergman practice field reserved for the injured players. It’s not a place for the injured players to sit back and watch.

The pit is a spot for the players to rehabilitate their injury and do some conditioning while they are out of practice. The hope is, once their injury heals, the player will be ready to get back on the practice field at full speed.

Quarterback Michael Mankoff (ankle sprain), center Ryan Swope (ankle sprain) and linebacker Jake Bruno (sprained knee ligament) are rehabbing in the pit during practice.

“This is my first injury with the pit experience,” Bruno said. “It’s hard, but it’s nice to get a chance to rehab yourself while still being out here and still being a part of practice, essentially.

“It’s definitely no fun. They work us pretty hard out here.”

Mesa State head athletic trainer Josh Fullmer first saw the idea for the pit when he was a graduate assistant trainer at the University of Utah when current University of Florida coach Urban Meyer coached the Utes in 2003 and 2004.

“We got together and decided this was something we wanted to do,” Fullmer said. “He (Meyer) hates seeing people sitting on the sideline not practicing. This is something we came up with to figure that problem out.

“He made a sand pit outside. Guys had barbells, logs and tires and pushed them in the sand.”

Fullmer brought the concept with him to Mesa State in 2006.

Now, seemingly every college program in the country has a ‘pit.’

“Being a sports psychologist, mental repetition is huge,” Fullmer said. “It’s important to be able to give these guys more chances to do rehab. There’s only one type of injury that you are exempt from the pit and that’s a concussion. It doesn’t matter what injury you have, you can do something. Whether it’s sitting on the ground doing sit-ups to upper body stuff only or lower body stuff only, there is something they can do during practice to make them better.”

Mankoff and Swope are doing a lot of proprioception exercises (balance).

“Especially with an ankle injury, the first thing to go is your balance, the ability to keep yourself straight and not fall,” Fullmer said. “We use (Dyna) disks filled with air, sometimes we use foam. It gives us an unstable surface so we can re-educate our muscles to keep everything in place.”

Mankoff and Swope have spent a lot of time doing push-ups, sit-ups, riding stationary bikes and swimming to keep their cardiovascular system in shape.

“I’m mentally preparing each week that I will play,” Mankoff said. “I’m doing everything possible to get back on the field. As soon as my ankle’s ready to go, I’ll be ready to go.”

Practicing beats getting teased by their teammates and it sure is better than being in the pit.

“I heard before we had the pit, people would fake injuries to get out of practice,” Noble said. “People realize the pit is worse than practice, so it motivates people to get back to suiting up.”


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