For as loud and as direct as their messages are, you might as well add a few extra names to the list of coaches for the Lions Club South All-Star Football team.
Out on the practice field at Cal State Stanislaus along with the 29 players and “official” coaching staff, you’ll find other talented people, such as Kendrick Lamar, Zac Brown and Drake.
Of course, those top musical talents aren’t actually present, but their music is – playing loudly for the duration of practice, back beats and bass lines mixing-in with the sounds of whistles and cracking pads.
Playing music at practice is something South head coach Rob Scheidt picked up on during visits to college football practices. He incorporated it last season at Merced High.
“Every college team we’ve visited in the last two years had music out there,” Scheidt said. “If you understand our youth, you know they’re used to multisensory stimulation. If you don’t have the music going out here, it’s hard for them to focus on what they’re doing. When the music is going, and I know this sounds odd, but the kids are more focused.”
Scheidt played in this game in 1988 after his senior season at Dos Palos and is taking his first turn as a Lions Game coach in this, the 41st annual installment. This year’s game will kick off Saturday at 7 p.m. at the new Wayne Schneider Stadium at Tracy High School.
The South won last year’s game 17-14, but the North has won eight of the last 10 and leads the all-time Series 24-15-1. Scheidt is hoping to coach the South to a modest two-game win streak, and hopes the music will help.s
“I was a little reluctant to start doing it,” Scheidt said. “We started doing this with one speaker last spring and in the fall, and every coach said the same thing – that the practices were better with the music. Yesterday, the ground fault kept popping on the speakers so we didn’t have music, and we struggled in the morning. Since we got the music back on, we’ve had the best two practices of the week.”
There is no consensus as to where music and football practice first came together. There are Internet references to the University of Michigan assigning two coaches to monitor the practice music playlist in 2009, and more recent references to music at the University of Oregon, UCLA and Utah. The University of California, according to one coach, hires DJs for football practice.
Coaches at some of those schools said they were using music to prepare players for the stadium game day din, while others claim the beat of music helps maintain positive tempo during practice.
Locally, Modesto Christian coach Mike Parsons said he used it during his first two seasons at Clovis West. At Downey, music has been a part of Jeremy Plaa’s practices for four seasons. He said he picked it up while he and his staff visited a practice at Oregon.
“You can’t have a slow tempo practice when fast-tempo music is playing,” Plaa said. “It’s a mood-lifter. The kids like it and so do the coaches.
“There were times the first two years when our iPod would go down and you could see all the air go out of the practice.”
For the all-stars this week, two loudspeakers have been placed on six-foot poles on the Stanislaus recreation field, and are fed streaming music through Spotify.
As the team stretched at the start of practice, Lamar rapped about himself with words that apply easily to football players seeking an identity on an all-star team.
“... all I ever did was try to keep my city on the map.”
And the players from high schools as varied as Merced and Modesto, Atwater and Patterson all bobbed heads in unison.
“Having the music here is pretty fun,” said Modesto Christian’s Anthony Brooks, one of the players who seemed to know the words to every song. “It keeps you pumped and gets you hyped-up and I think it gets everybody focused.”
As passing drills took up one end of the field and the linemen assembled for grunt work at the other end, the music suddenly shifted to country and the Zac Brown Band was singing about driving on Highway 20 and missing his son.
“I don’t know how that got mixed up,” Scheidt said. “It pretty much switched on its own because we just play it. One of our rules at Merced was that nobody can ask to play their music.”
Then, during a non-contact seven-on-seven drill, Drake took over with Nicki Minaj. Drake is Canadian, so what could he possibly know about football? That’s missing the point, Scheidt insists.
“The kids in this generation never are idle,” Scheidt said. “They have to have their phone, their music or something else. I was used to studying in a room where everything had to be quiet. It had to be quiet to focus. But when these kids are in a quiet room, their minds wonder.”
But should the South prevail, just maybe the concentration the team gained through the use of music during practice will have played a part.
And if so, maybe Drake should get some credit. That song he was singing? “Make Me Proud.”