BITBURG, Germany - Cleats kicked up scorched grass as teenage linemen pushed a sled weighed down by four coaches, who, in recent years, hadn’t exactly given up cheeseburgers and beer. The afternoon temperature had reached about 90 degrees. And for the teens, wearing shoulder pads and helmets, the sun’s glare was inescapable.

"It’s like being in an oven and then running it," said Chance Knoblauch, a sophomore from Lakenheath High School.

With football season fast approaching, players from Department of Defense high schools, local national teams and private schools from around Europe have gathered on fields in Bitburg and Ansbach for intensive three-day training camps that end Friday. More than 450 students from schools in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, England, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands are attending the camps, which were split in two this year to accommodate the increased number of players.

Coaches are focusing on fundamentals and getting the players physically prepared for the coming season. Drills start at 9 a.m. and continue into the late evening, with breaks for lunch and dinner.

But the hard work is worth it, the players say.

"This camp is great," Paul Federiko, a Lakenheath sophomore, said Wednesday at the Bitburg camp. "I’ve learned a lot so far and it’s just the first day."

Linemen grunted as they pounded blocking bags held by players. "Drive. Drive. Drive," yelled Glenn Pilarowski, a Baumholder coach. A former college and arena football player, Pilarowski had suffered through many summer camps and said he could empathize with the players. "They don’t want to do this," he said. "But they are doing it for their school, to be a part of a team and to possibly win a championship."

The coaches, drilling the linemen on their stances, showed how to get low when taking on the opposing line. Atop the sled, Pilarowski exhorted the players to push harder. "Don’t cheat yourself," he said. "I want you to be the best offensive lineman on your team. And if you’re not that person, be that person."

On another field, quarterbacks practiced throwing post patterns to receivers and handing off to running backs. Unlike the linemen, they had the good fortune of practicing without pads.

But everyone had to sprint in the 40-yard dash. Gino Culotta, a senior at the International School of Brussels, earned the Bitburg camp’s title of fastest man. "I’ve been working all summer for this," Culotta said after winning. "I’ve been to something like eight football camps. And I’ve been working on my technique to improve my speed."

The coaches and students alike said they were sizing up the fall’s opposition. "It’s a good thing because you get to see the competition," said Marshall Smith, a sophomore from Ramstein who’s attending the Ansbach camp. "It’s a bad thing because they get a chance to see us and what we have to offer."

Smith said there were other benefits besides getting a glimpse of his competitors. "I’m going to get conditioned for the season," he said. "The camp gives you something to do and stay out of trouble."

And there clearly wasn’t much else going on in Ansbach, something acknowledged by Marcus George, coach of Ansbach’s highly successful football teams and camp organizer. "Here in Ansbach, all we got is cows and football," he reminded the athletes.

At times it seemed as though the coaches were having more fun than the players.

At the Bitburg camp, B.J. Walker, a retired sergeant, threw deep passes to wide receivers Wednesday, then chided them for dropping what he deemed were perfect throws.

"I can’t call you scrubs," he told the players. "I got to call you gentlemen or mister. But sometimes you guys are knuckleheads."

Coach Will Vreugdenhil of ISB had returned from his honeymoon, an Alaskan cruise, only a day before the Bitburg camp began. He had planned it so he wouldn’t miss the start of the training. Walking across the dusty field with several other coaches, Vreugdenhil said: "There is no place I’d rather be."

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