The sign of a top-notch high school athletics program is striking the balance between physical and mental training, preparing boys to become young men both in the athletic realm and the outside world.

In order to facilitate the growth of physical prowess and leadership quality, the Goliad athletics program has found a clever way to strike its balance. Under the direction of head football coach Kevin Salazar, Goliad High School ran what it called “Tiger Boot Camp” during January.

Beginning Jan. 11 and ending on Jan. 27, the three-week program was open to all returning athletes, freshman through juniors, in order to prepare them for their upcoming sport schedules.

“Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve done a boot camp,” Salazar said. “It’s just something that instills discipline and teaches some structure for our kids. (You) gotta get them to give all out effort and become one unit, that’s what our boot camp has instilled in these young men.”

Working with his coaching staff, Salazar put together the program and ended with roughly 75 sign-ups. During the 10:29-11:19 class period, the Tigers prowl to the school’s event center to change for the work ahead.

Athletes are divided into three separate groups, competing three stations of rigorous exercise in each “camp” session.

The first, working with Coach Salazar, sees the mats laid down for cardiovascular and core work. Campers completed sideways and forward rolls, as well as diving into push-up position during a station that resembled a souped-up basketball suicide drill.

A second station is more cardio and core work using a variety of tools, including medicine balls, hurdles and box jumps. The third, working with coach John Livas, focuses specifically on command weight training.

“All these stations are important,” Salazar said. “The work ethic of our kids in these stations is tremendously valuable, however what they’re getting out of each station is the discipline and the listening to commands, paying attention and focusing when their body starts to get tired. They’ve gotta really tune in and be locked in on what’s going on, and to trust each other to get through each station together. That’s what boot camp is all about, making one unit.”

Coaches keep up the intensity throughout practice, as students work through the raised tones to find a deeper meaning to the disciplined sessions.

“Working with the coaches, it’s (about) hearing the message, not the tone,” said GHS powerlifter Walker Wimberly. “So, if someone’s getting after you, it’s not about how you hear that message, it’s about what that message means.”

The students send their own message right back, a message that they won’t quit during training. This message is vocalized through “GATA,” a determined call for action that is repeated throughout the sessions.

“It’s something to keep us motivated, get good energy going,” Wimberly said.

Each morning before an athletic session, the student group meets at 7:30 a.m. for character lessons. Coaches impart wisdom to the group, including tips on accountability and how to be coachable.

“(I’m) not just doing it for myself, but for my teammates ... (to) build a better team all around,” Tiger baseball second baseman Donnie Garcia said.

Between the early morning wisdom and the mid-morning physical push, Tiger athletes have already begun to feel the positive effects of the camp.

“Our kids are really buying into what we’re doing, and we’re looking forward to this group gelling as one and committing themselves completely to the program,” Salazar said.

Salazar’s focus with the camp is part of his broader athletics plan, an idea that he took with him from prior experiences.

“This was my plan last year to do this, and then COVID shut us down after I got the job, so this is our first true offseason with these guys. ... We’ll keep this tradition going.”

Being in the pandemic has exacerbated the need for maturity and leadership within GHS halls, something Salazar thinks made the camp “adaptable” for the Tigers.

“You gotta be ready for change. Games, kids being out, coaches being out, whatnot. That can happen any day. You just gotta be ready for some transition, we all have to work together and pick up each other’s slack and be there for one another, because things are going to come up. ... We’re used to making adjustments.”

•tleffler@mysoutex.com•

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