GET LOOSE: DeMatha football using yoga to prepare for challenging schedule

July 13, 2015

Members of the DeMatha Football team ‘get loose’ like they never have before. Photo courtesy Amber Speights.

BY CHRIS MCMANES — Elijah Brooks is always searching for anything that will give his football team an edge; the DeMatha Catholic High School coach thinks his latest idea will help his program navigate perhaps its toughest schedule ever.

Brooks’ players and coaches are taking yoga classes this summer at Bikram Hot Yoga in Riverdale Park.

“It’s easily the most difficult workout regimen I’ve ever participated in,” said Brooks, who played football and basketball at DeMatha and was a running back at Kent State and William and Mary. “As football players, we’re not accustomed to that type of training – it’s tough.”

The once-a-week, 90-minute yoga classes consist of 26 postures and two breathing exercises performed in a precise sequence. They are held in a 105 degree studio with 40 percent humidity. Players and coaches have a free pass to go a second time each week on their schedule.

“It’s so hot in there, and you’re just sweating for an hour-and-a-half,” rising senior running back Lorenzo Harrison said. “We do a lot of stretching and a lot of us are real tight, so that’s real hard, too. It’s been a hard time adjusting for a lot of us.”

The Stags’ greatest benefit could be mental health, though, with improved focus and concentration.

“I think it’s going to help a lot mentally because it teaches you discipline,” Harrison said. “With all the [stretching], you can go down kind of far if you want to, but if you really want to improve your flexibility, you’re going to have to push yourself, and that’s going to help us with discipline and mental toughness.”

Brooks said he “absolutely” thinks the yoga will help his team this season. Harrison agrees: “It’s improving our flexibility and we can get more explosive, so I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Harrison, who’s committed to play for the University of Maryland, said about 30 minutes of each session focuses on balance, a critical element in football. The player who can stay on his feet has a better chance to fulfill his assignment, be it block, tackle, or in Harrison’s case, carry the football..

“It definitely helps,” he said.

DeMatha, which won its final six games last year to finish 9-3 and win the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship at Byrd Stadium, opens up Aug. 29 at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex against national power Miami Central High School.

The Rockets, 14-1 a year ago, have won three straight Florida Class 6A state championships and are loaded with Division I prospects. They have been in the state title game five years in a row – winning four – and have won 38 of their past 40 games.

The Stags’ second game will be at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fl. The Patriots were 12-3 in 2014 and captured their second consecutive state 5A championship. Yoga is playing a key role in DeMatha’s preparation.

“We have to have any mental edge we can get,” Brooks said, “and I don’t want the weather to be a factor that holds us back. I want [my players] to know that no matter how hot it is on [August 29 or September 5], we know that we’ve worked and trained in elements similar to how it’s going to be.”

Game three, after a bye week, will be played at home against La Salle College High School (8-2). League games include stalwarts Good Counsel, Gonzaga, and St. John’s. Football camp opens Aug. 1.

“We’re playing some really talented teams, but we feel this could be the most talented team that I’ve coached since taking over [in 2011],” Brooks said. “We’re up for the challenge, so we’re excited for the season.”

Chris McManes writes often about DeMatha athletics.