JSU braces for the cold of Eastern Washington
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Dec 09, 2013 | 2463 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins will compete for the starting job. (File photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins will compete for the starting job. (File photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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JACKSONVILLE — At the beginning of preseason practice way back in August, everybody made a big deal about Max Shortell getting acclimated to the weather conditions he would be training in to become Jacksonville State’s quarterback.

Now, he is one of the few players on the roster who can best explain to his teammates what they’re likely to experience in Saturday’s FCS quarterfinals game at Eastern Washington.

Shortell is from Kansas and played at Minnesota, places where late-in-the-season temperatures drop fast and snow falls even faster.

“A lot of it is just a mindset,” Shortell said. “People always ask if this is the coldest coldest you’ve played in. I say I’ve played in a lot colder. I just try to give them tips on how to stay warm.”

It was 37 degrees at kickoff in the Gamecocks’ 31-10 second-round win at McNeese State on Saturday night. They should expect a lot colder this weekend.

When JSU coach Bill Clark and his players started gathering for Monday’s weekly press briefing, the temperature in Cheney, Wash., was 13 degrees with a wind chill of 4. By lunchtime, it had risen to 19. Getting above freezing was going to be a struggle.

It was 12 on Saturday when the Eagles kicked off their game with South Dakota State, the coldest game in school history. An EWU athletics department official said Sunday the weather in the region was more typical of January than December.

Shortell has peeked at the extended forecast and called it “nothing too unbearable.” It calls for highs in the mid-30s with a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams described Monday as “cold” and reported snow was coming, but he wasn’t counting on any of that providing his team an edge against the Gamecocks.

“I know Sam Houston came up here (in last year’s semifinals) and handled the weather pretty well,” said Adams, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the FCS’ top player. “We can’t look at it like these Alabama boys aren’t used to this weather. We got our butts kicked by Sam Houston.

“We can’t look at it like that. We’ve got to practice all week and play our best. The cold weather isn’t going to faze them when they’re going for a national championship.”

Actually, these are exactly the conditions the coaching staff had in mind when they scheduled the players’ off-season workouts for early January mornings.

“We had three or four weeks in a row when it’s been 30 with wind chills of no telling,” Clark said. “I’d tell them when it gets later in the year just remember we’ve been here. It’s not fun to be out in it, but we have and fought through it.”

Shortell said he played in snow once in Kansas and called it “one of the funnest games I ever played in my life.” He recalled a couple games in the teens during his time at Minnesota.

But he isn’t the only Jacksonville State player with experience on the frozen tundra. Versatile senior Jerry Slota grew up in Colorado, and he’s played in just about every condition imaginable.

He remembered a couple state championship games that were played with temperatures in the teens. The worst conditions he ever remembered was a playoff game his sophomore year in high school. A blizzard hit two days before the game, but the sun melted most of the snow the next day and when the temperatures dipped overnight it turned the playing field into a cold mud bowl.

He said his father called him Sunday and told him if he wanted to see what the conditions would be like this week in Washington, just turn on the Eagles-Lions game that was being played in near-blizzard conditions in Philadelphia.

“You can prepare for it to a certain degree, but there’s a certain degree there’s no preparing for,” Slota said. “People say you’re acclimated, you’re used to it, but eventually no one’s used to how cold it truly is. You just have to man up. It’s a mental thing.”

The Gamecocks plan to fight off the chill Saturday with layered clothing, space heaters on the sidelines, hand warmers in their pockets and Saturday’s secret weapon — Vaseline. Lots of Vaseline.

“Just scoop it out and rub it where you need it,” Slota said. “It does the trick, keeps you warmer, but after a certain point, it’s all mental. If you let it affect you, it will.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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