TUSCOLA — The most important day of Tuscola football's summer workouts doesn't happen on the football field.
Instead, Warriors coach Andy Romine takes his 60-plus players to an obstacle course in Mahomet that tests his squad physically and builds bonds between teammates.
The course, Riz's Course, is run by Jim Risley, the longtime Mahomet-Seymour wrestling coach who earlier this year was inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame.
The hours Tuscola spends running the course are invaluable to Romine.
"We do that once a year and I think there are some really good programs that do that," he said. "The course started as a the thing for (Risley's) own kids to train them for pole vaulting and it has kind of morphed into an obstacle course that for my money is unquestionably the single most important thing we do in the summer in terms of team building."
While stronger players can master the course quickly, younger players often struggle to complete it. But that's where the rest of the team jumps in, assisting their teammates across the goal line.
"We have a number of kids who can finish the course with no mistakes — I think we had 14 this year — but the most important thing is that we took 63 kids there and 63 kids finished it, albeit it some had to have help from their teammates which is kind of more valuable than the kids who can finish it on their own," Romine said. "It’s about a three-hour process and, for my money money, it is the most important thing of the day."
Senior quarterback Luke Sluder mastered the course this year for the first time.
"I’ve done the course four times and this year was my first year completing it," Sluder said. "My first three years I was very close but this year was my first year finishing it perfectly.
"There’s a lot of different obstacles and the whole time you get very out of breath quickly, and what makes you keep going is your teammates cheering you on. There’s a very tall wall that lots of people can’t get up so our teammates help each other up and that’s where the teamwork really comes in and helps us come together."
Senior linebacker Will Little said he remembers getting help from seniors when he ran the course the first time and enjoyed helping out this year's class of freshman.
"There’s not a very high chance you can finish it as a freshman," Little said. "You look up to the seniors as a freshman, obviously, so whenever you have a senior help you through it, it gets everybody excited."
Little said he likes that the whole team is involved in the completing the course.
"There are a lot of teams I know that they don’t have everybody go to the obstacle course. Like they won’t have lineman do it. Our linemen do," he said. "Coach Romine’s whole philosophy is that everyone needs to do it so it will build the team. If someone can’t finish it, the rest of the team will help them through it and so everybody finishes the course no matter what. It’s kind of brings the team together."
For Romine, the course instills in his younger players that success can come from hard work.
"I think it’s important for young kids seeing older kids being successful," Romine said. "I think it’s really important for the kids to understand that you’re going to get there, it just takes time and it takes work. I think it makes our younger kids see this is where I will get to if I buy in to what we do. I really think that’s how you develop a program."
Developing a program is something Romine is an expert in.
In his four seasons as the Warriors' head coach, he has a 45-4 record and last season the Warriors lost in the 1A state title game to Lena-Winslow, 21-20.
"I think we take great pride in the fact that our program is not a flash in the pan," said Romine, who was previously an assistant during Rick Reinhart's time as coach. "I think the most valuable thing about our program is its consistency. When you start to have older kids who make younger kids feel important and make them understand: It will be your program in a year or two and I’m not going to be here but I want it to be successful.
"I think that obstacle course and all the things that we do establishes that programmatic mentality and the programmatic culture we are after."