Bryan County football coach Cherard Freeman can’t wait until 9 a.m. June 6 when his fourth Redskins team begins summer football drills.
Optimism is prevalent as the Redskins, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2015, return the core of last year’s team headed by veterans such as Austin “Smush” Clemons, Tanner Ennis and Sean Kelly Hill. Because most players are multi-sport athletes Bryan County did not have actual on the field practices and a spring game. The focus instead was on a conditioning program centered around the weight room. Freeman, thanks to assistance from former principal Elizabeth Raeburn who is an avid and knowledgeable sports fan, introduced his players to a new conditioning wrinkle when he made yoga part of the program.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years and is a combination of physical and mental exercises designed to calm and strengthen the body.
It is not an exercise normally associated with high school athletes although it is a major part of the training program of many athletes such as Lebron James who praises its benefits.
“Ms. Raeburn and I were talking about conditioning one day and we talked about yoga,” said Freeman who is not hesitant to think outside the box. “She said she was certified and she would teach it.
“I wanted it for flexibility for our linemen so we did it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We’re bigger and stronger but I think we’ve got more flexibility in the lower body especially down around the ankles.”
The fact a principal would get involved handson with a football team’s winter conditioning might seem unusual but in Raeburn’s case it would be a part of her DNA.
Raeburn is a graduate of University of Mount Union which has won 13 NCAA Division III national championships during which it had winning streaks of 55 and 54 games. The streaks were connected which meant Mount Union was 109-1 in that stretch.
“I so enjoyed doing the yoga for the football team and all the weightlifters,” Raeburn said. “I hope I get to continue. From Principal to yoga teacher! It has been awesome.
“It was born out of me just suggesting it to Coach Freeman,” Raeburn said. “I thought it would be beneficial, especially for hips and flexibility. It was a hit. The boys loved it and they responded well to it.
“The benefits of yoga go far beyond muscles and flexibility. It also gave me a chance to help our athletes with focus, clarity and meditation which are incredible skills they need for life.”
There are 10 yoga poses one of which is plank if you are looking to tone your abs and strengthen your upper body. The plank pose, Raeburn said, was the most popular pose with the Redskins.
“They really loved it when we did the plank challenges,” Raeburn said.
“Jacari Carney and Ethan Trombley are the champs. Smush was my best student and Elijah (Carney) has come a long way.”
Carney is a rising junior on the Redskins basketball team who has already surpassed 1,000 points and he participated in the strength and conditioning program.
Clemons approached yoga with some skepticism but he is now a true believer.
Coming off a serious knee injury against Portal last year in the fourth game of the season he has rehabbed relentlessly and said the injured knee is now stronger than ever. While he missed basketball season, he qualified for the state track meet this year in the shot put and discus in his first time trying those events.
“Yoga is a big thing with me because I’m really trying to get faster and it will help me loosen up,” said Clemons who recently received an offer from Stetson University. “I’m trying to get my hips to be more flexible and looser because my left one is tighter than my right one. That plays a big part in speed.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Clemons said. “I can tell I’m a lot more flexible now than I was before we started yoga.
“Ms. Raeburn is very active and fit. I’m pretty sure she does yoga every day. She’s done a terrific job and because of her help I think we’ll be a better football team this fall. And I think the yoga will help us cut down on some of those nagging injuries you get.”