What happens when you combine a high school football team from Tennessee with a film crew, and put them together at a camp deep in the mountains for five days before the start of their season? Dick’s Sporting Goods and ESPN teamed up to answer that very question this summer. Through the vision of director, Paul Canney, viewers will have the chance to go behind the scenes as the Station Camp High School football team looks to form an identity during, “Hell Week”. The documentary which airs Thursday, Aug. 22 on ESPN2, will showcase the unbelievable training regimen these boys are put through, as they are tested to their limits both physically and mentally. During their five days away from the comforts of family and home, the players will learn to not only survive under pressure, but trust one another as they become more than just a team. This is the second high school training camp Dick’s and Paul Canney have worked with, and it is the first time the documentary will make its network debut on ESPN.
Media and VIP guests were treated to a screening of the film on Wednesday night, at the historic Varick Room at Tribeca Cinemas on the lower West Side. Director, Paul Canney, and special guest Mike Golic were on hand after the film to talk about what it was like at camp, and just how intense the world of high school football is. You can watch Station Camp's season opener as they host Beech High School, also airing on ESPN2 as part of the ESPN High School Kickoff this Sunday at noon.
Interviews by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)
Paul Canney, Director: Less perceptions, more expectations and worry about what we were going to find. You only have a brief amount of time to interview the coaches beforehand and get the backstory. I was worried if it would it just be a camp of practices, I didn’t think it would be, I thought going away to camp in the isolated woods would prove to be a great story. The story was of the team coming together, and I thought going in that the story might be more about the performance of the team, as a football team. There was sort of, less X’s and O’s, and more emotion.
What were some of the differences between filming Station Camp in Tennessee, and the school you filmed in Detroit before the start of last season?
PC: There was not much difference on the field, these kids played football. I think the difference was that a lot of these kids in Detroit had so many outside pressures on them, and it was really hard to stay focussed on football and school. To play at Cass Tech (in Detroit) you have to maintain a 2.8 GPA, so you have to excel in school, handle the football regimen, and deal with the pressure of being the defending state champs. They had a huge target on their backs. One of the things that their coach was so proud of was that inner-city African American kids could be smart, disciplined, and mentally prepared. I saw that in them, and I saw most that they were able to block out the distractions, the fact that they had a single mom, or the corner where they live is used to sell drugs. It’s not all like that, but Detroit is not in a good place. With these kids (at Station Camp) it was much more, mentally can I overcome what these guys are putting us through? We didn’t get a chance to chronologically go through a day, but just to give you an idea, 5 a.m. lifting weights, 6 a.m. a two mile run, breakfast, 9 a.m. practice, downtime, 11 a.m. practice, lunch, downtime, 3 p.m. practice, dinner, 7 p.m. practice, and then they would wake them up at midnight for some more. With that grind, these kids found something in themselves that they didn’t see before.
What are the challenges of working with high school kids as opposed to college or professional athletes, and vice versa, what are the advantages?
PC: I’ll just talk about the advantages. The advantages are that they’re fresh, they’re not jaded, and they’re not talking in cliches. Once we established a trust with them they were very open with us, they were interested in what we were doing, and they really hadn’t been filmed before. It was really a pleasure to do it. Nothing was scripted, nothing was staged, everything you see up there actually happened.
What was your favorite moment from camp that didn’t make it on camera?
PC: There was a moment where all the kids were standing there, and it’s night time, and it’s raining, and they had just done a drill called four quarters of glory, where if anyone screwed up you had to go all the way back to first quarter. Boy, we, myself and two camera guys, were standing there, and it’s pouring now, these kids were going at it and they weren’t giving up. They finished that drill and they had that rally, which you saw, and we walked away all jacked up. That moment was very powerful, very emotional. What they were going through, came through.
They’re doing this because they love football and they love being with their friends, and that truly is for the love of the game.
What are your first thoughts of the film?
Mike Golic, former NFL lineman, co-host of ESPN’s Mike and Mike: Out of all the garbage reality TV we have out there, this is true reality. This is pure because they’re not professionals, not even college kids, and 80 percent of them won’t even play in college. They’re doing this because they love football and they love being with their friends, and that truly is for the love of the game. Putting yourself through that, and being there for one another, that’s about as true reality TV as you can get.
What’s changed with regards to the “Hell Week” you and your sons endured, compared with what these kids went through?
MG: Not a whole lot, a lot of the drills I saw there are the same drills. One coach said it at camp, repetition is the king. You keep repeating the same thing over, and over, and over again so the kids get the technique right. That never changes, from the start of football to now. The things we didn’t do, I didn’t get to go away, I got to go home and eat my moms cooking. We also didn’t have a wakeup call in the middle of the night to do thirty minutes of conditioning, and that wasn’t as punishment, it was part of the program. I thought that was a pretty cool thing to see, as long as I wasn’t doing it.
Some of the kids pulled a prank with baby powder in the film, what did you guys do to get into trouble at camp?
MG: We would tape the young kids to the goalposts, that’s always a winner. You just tape ‘em there and leave ‘em there for a little while, throw some water on them or something like that. Back in the day when you wore the old jockstrap, we would put the atomic bomb in the jockstrap, just fun stuff like that. It was nothing harmful, just something to give you a laugh and break up the monotony a little bit. They’re still teenagers, they’re going to have their fun and test their limit, and when you test your limits you pay the price a little bit.
How does the age disparity come into play at the high school level, compared to college and the pros?
MG: From high school, going in as a 13 or 14-year-old, those are tiny little kids. What I like is how you bring a freshman there, and it’s almost like a microcosm of school, freshman trying to fit in with everybody else, and freshman football players by the end of that week being accepted by the upperclassmen, that’s huge for them. Now they’re walking into school and an older teammate gives them a high five, everyone says wow, they’re accepted by them. The physical attribute of it though, that’s your biggest disparity. College you obviously grow some, and by the time you get to the NFL you are who you are.
When this airs, do you think people are going to be shocked by how intense football is at the high school level?
MG: Anybody who has gone through it won’t be. Anybody that’s played high school football, because I kid you not, we did the same drills with the same intensity. Those that didn’t maybe a little like, oh my god, they really do that to the kids. It’s an unbelievable character builder, I’ll never stop saying how much it can help someone outside of the world of football. When these kids are done playing, which for a lot of them will be after this year, this is going to help them in the real world.
The film kept focussing back on this bell tower that any of the kids could ring at any time to signal they were ready to quit. Can you ring the bell, can you go home?
MG: Not a chance. If you get close to a breaking point that’s what your teammates are for, for someone to talk you away from that. It would take a whole lot, I couldn’t imagine ringing the bell, no, couldn’t happen.