Although the NFL training camps have been going full-speed ahead for the last 10 days or so, conditioning drills began for both high school and collegiate football players this week.

High school teams that opted for spring practice (Ozen, Central and West Brook in Beaumont, Port Arthur Memorial and Port Neches-Groves) won’t begin until Monday.

Our two area Southland Conference members, the Lamar Cardinals and my alma mater McNeese, began the brutal conditioning drills.

The Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints have their respective training camps near their home stadiums while the Dallas Cowboys are practicing this summer at Oxnard, Calif. where they have normally spent a portion of their practices in previous years.

The University Interscholastic League has modified some of its rules in an effort to make high school football safer for the players. Teams cannot put on pads and their full protective gear until four days of practice are completed. Practice during the first four days cannot last longer than three hours.

The second practice during the first week is for teaching only and not conditioning. Then, on the fifth day, they can hold two-day practices, but not on consecutive days.

Water breaks are unlimited during high school practices with many schools providing fruit and even pickle juice to help the athletes get acclimated to the extreme Texas heat in August.

West Orange-Stark Mustangs head coach Cornel Thompson has added a special wrinkle for Friday’s first day with full pads—Midnight Madness. The Mustang hopefuls will don the pads late Thursday night and begin practice at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Fans are urged to be on hand for a fun-filled early morning extravaganza.

The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement also has banned two-a-day practice sessions while many colleges have cut back on multiple practice days over the last few years.

The Dallas Cowboys have moderated their approach to training camp by trying to be less boisterous about the upcoming season, especially from Idiot Owner Jerry Jones and overweight defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who just about guaranteed a Super Bowl appearance last season.

In reality the Cowboys have struggled just to be a mediocre NFL team, instead of trying to live up to being America’s Team of the past. The Pokes in the last 15 years have posted a 120-120 record in the regular season and 1-6 in the playoffs.

Seven-time All-Pro tight end Jason Witten knows the window of opportunity is closing as he approaches his tenth season with the Cowboys. He’s only been in four playoff games with Dallas with the Pokes posting only a single victory.

The Cowboys are aware that their opening game of the 2012 season Sept. 5 against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants could be their toughest and most important game of the season.

Head Coach Jason Garrett, whose job could very well be in jeopardy, is determined to make his team mentally tougher than it has been in the past. His main concern was the fourth-quarter leads the Cowboys blew in five of their eight losses last season.

“These are long practices with a lot of running,” Garrett told the press last week. “But you have to be able to gut it out. This is what the fourth quarter is going to be like. We haven’t gotten the job done. It’s a bottom-line, get-the-job-done business. I think our team understands that.”

Another place where things are far from routine during training camp is down in New Orleans where the Saints are operating without Head Coach Sean Payton, who has been suspended for the entire 2012 season by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his knowledge of the alleged pay-to-injure bounty program.

The Saints players intend to pay homage to Payton by leaving an empty seat for him in the Saints’ meeting room as well as on the team bus and plane.

The team named assistant Joe Vitt as the interim coach, but has not said who the interim-for-the-interim coach will be when Vitt begins serving his six-game suspension when the regular-season begins.

However, the Saints were successful Sunday in the season’s first exhibition game—the annual Hall of Fame Game at Canton, Ohio—defeating the Arizona Cardinals 17-10. Arizona starting quarterback Kevin Kolb left the game after the third series with bruised ribs after a “clean” tackle by the Saints’ defense.

The Houston Texans had Monday off as they prepare for their first preseason game Saturday at Carolina. Head Coach Gary Kubiak was happy because the team finished what he categorized as a “good week” of practice and let his players take off the pads a half-hour early Saturday.

On the college scene the Lamar Cardinals began practicing Monday night as they prepared for their season’s opener at Louisiana-Lafayette Sept. 1. Head Coach Ray Woodard said that of the 22 projected starters on offense and defense as few as four and not more than six will be seniors.

And across the Sabine River in Lake Charles, La. the McNeese State Cowboys reported for practice last Tuesday and put the pads on for the first time Friday. Head Coach Matt Viator is determined to improve on the Cowboys’ 6-5 record as they get ready for their first game Aug. 30 (Thurs.) against Middle Tennessee State at Murfreesboro, TN.

The Texas Aggies are excited about abandoning the Big 12 and going to the Southeastern Conference to play “real college football” for a change. The Aggies are trying like crazy to not look past their season opener Aug. 30 against Louisiana Tech at Shreveport to the SEC opener the following weekend against Florida at Kyle Field.

And the Texas Longhorns were looking for team leaders when they officially started preseason camp Sunday. Another priority for Head Coach Mack Brown was to name a starting quarterback between sophomore David Ash and junior Case McCoy. Brown rotated both quarterbacks all last season without naming a permanent starter.

The ‘Horns open the season against Wyoming Sept. 1 and then play New Mexico the following Saturday.

KWICKIES…It seemed almost bizarre that good guy pro golfer Jim Furyk led last weekend’s Bridgestone Invitational for a phenomenal 71 holes only to double-bogey No. 18 on Sunday and lose to Keegan Bradley, who sunk a clutch five-foot par putt to surprisingly win the event. The one bad hole cost Furyk nearly $750,000 as he settled for a tie for second place with Steve Stricker and $665,000. Bradley carded a 64 Sunday to win $1.4 million at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt successfully defended his title as the Fastest Man on Earth as he roared past an impressive field to win a gold medal in the 100 meters Sunday with an Olympic record 9.63 seconds, the second fastest time ever run. Bolt, 25, became the first man to repeat as 100-meter champion in a race on the track. He set world records in the 100 and 200 in Beijing, then lowered them at the 2009 world track and field championships, 9.58 and 19.19. Fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake finished second in 9.75 and John Gatlin of the United States, the 2004 Olympic champion, was third with 9.79 seconds.

The Houston Astros squeaked past the Atlanta Braves 3-2 Saturday but failed to win back-to-back road games in the same series—something they haven’t accomplished since July 27 and 28, 2011 at St. Louis—losing Sunday 6-1 in a game much closer than the final score. The Astros tied the game 1-1 in the sixth inning, but a two-out wild pitch by starter Bud Norris with the bases loaded and a single broke the game wide open. Through Sunday’s loss the Astros stood at 36-73 and a paltry 11-46 away from home. Houston is entertaining the NL East Division-leading Washington Nationals in a four- game series that began Monday at Minute Maid Park.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has kept a low profile off the football field since his July 16 arrest for allegedly assaulting his mother. The troubled former Lufkin High and Oklahoma State standout needs to forget about trying to be a convict and concentrate on playing football. “He’s screwed around here and got his benefit of the doubt collateral down to nothing,” commented Cowboy owner Jerry Jones. “I know how much football means to him and instincts tell me that’s going to be a big motivator for him.”

JUST BETWEEN US…An editorial by Washington Post columnist George Will that ran Sunday about “accumulating evidence about football’s impact on players raised questions about the continuing viability of the sport” has gotten plenty of attention early this week. Will points out “in 1980 only three NFL players weighed 300 or more pounds. In 2011, according to, there were 352 and three that tipped the scales over 350. Various unsurprising studies indicate high early mortality rates among linemen resulting from cardiovascular disease. For players who play five or more years, life expectancy is less than 60; for linemen it is much less.” Wills concludes his editorial “accumulating evidence about new understandings of the human body—the brain, especially, but not exclusively—compel the conclusion that football is a mistake because the body is not built to absorb, and cannot be adequately modified by training or protected by equipment to absorb, the game’s kinetic energies.”