*Rookies Jeremy Sprinkle and Tyler Catalina share their experiences about transitioning from a college workout regimen to the independence and self-motivation needed for NFL training. *
By: Jay Cannon
When a player is drafted or signed to an NFL roster, a lot of attention is paid to how his playing style will translate to the big stage. For quarterback prospects, a strong pocket presence is always coveted; for running backs, scouts like someone who can run between the tackles, and so on.
What can sometimes get lost in the shuffle for these rookies are the significant lifestyle changes that they must undergo when transitioning from a college setting to a professional one.
Being an NFL rookie brings certain responsibilities and pressures that the college game doesn’t have. A first year player is thrust into the most competitive football league in the world and often asked to contribute from day one, all while living completely on his own likely for the first time in his life. However, with that added stress level comes a new sense of freedom that many players haven’t experienced before.
Redskins rookies Jeremy Sprinkle and Tyler Catalina both acknowledge the relatively large amount of independence that they now experience at the professional level. As each learned throughout their respective rookie campaigns, the importance of keeping a healthy lifestyle became more essential with this new sense of independence.
“You don’t feel like a kid anymore,” Catalina said.
Catalina, an offensive lineman, is far from the first player to grapple with that conclusion. Gone are the days of being told what to do, what to eat and where to go. The NFL’s training regiment is time consuming, sure, but it also leaves much of the responsibility on the player to keep himself in game shape.
The shift in responsibility from coach to player might result in less intensity in some circumstances, but it brings a new host of challenges as well. When asked about the transition from a college training regiment to a professional one, Catalina said that he has found it to be less demanding in the NFL.
“I would say it’s a little more relaxed in the sense that there’s not somebody over your shoulder, watching you do every rep. It’s on you,” Catalina said. “But, having that trust factor, it kind of persuades you to do everything the right way, because it’s on you and if you don’t, then it looks bad on you.”
Catalina, who spent three years at the University of Rhode Island before transferring to the University of Georgia for his senior season, said that the intensity level was noticeably high at a big-time program like Georgia. Moving from a demanding football program like the one in Athens, Ga., to an NFL routine that puts more of the trust in the players has undoubtedly been a change for the 24-year-old.
Sprinkle, a fellow SEC product and the team’s fourth-string tight end in 2017, agreed that the freedom he experienced in the NFL was a clear change from his college years at Arkansas.
“I would say it’s a little more intense,” he admitted. “But also, you get to choose which days you work out on. That’s a little bit different, having the freedom to not only choose which days, but which times -- like we don’t have specific time slots that we have to go to.”
While staying healthy is a key element to playing football at any level, the NFL puts a much greater importance on taking care of one’s body. Because of the professional environment, the business side of the game has been known to rear its ugly head when a player goes down with an injury or falls out of game shape.
As the Redskins learned this season, injuries are simply a part of the game. They can be devastating at the college level, too, but the repercussions in the NFL can be far more financially severe. Whenever a player goes down with an injury, he can’t help but worry about being cut or not getting a contract renewed simply because of a physical ailment. Even with the advanced technology and information that the sports medicine industry now has, this remains the harsh reality of professional sports.
“I would say that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned so far, is taking care of your body and that the best ability is availability,” Catalina said. “So, if you’re able to practice and perform and produce, then you’ll stick around.”
With so much importance put on a player’s “availability,” staying in shape and taking rehab assignments seriously is essential to a player’s survival in the NFL. Catalina learned this lesson firsthand this season, playing on an offensive line that used more than 20 different combinations throughout the year.
The right diet, of course, plays an essential role in one’s ability to stay in shape, and for a player in today’s NFL, the responsibility of eating healthy is largely put on the individual. The kitchen staff at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park offers meals to players every day, but there are no specially planned diets or any team mandates on nutrition.
Sprinkle noted that he targets proteins more than any other nutrient, especially after workouts and practices.
“Away from [Redskins Park] it’s up to us, but here they feed us breakfast and lunch everyday,” Sprinkle said. “At home, I try to eat healthy -- no fast food, things like that.”
With different positions come different body types, and for an offensive lineman like Catalina, he pays special attention to his overall calorie intake more so than anything else.
“For us, it’s really about maintaining weight, maintaining your lean muscle, not putting on too much fat and just kind of maintaining our muscle mass and our body weight throughout the whole season to try to keep us healthy.”