UMass prepared for the challenge of playing at higher altitude at Colorado



Last modified: Tuesday, September 29, 2015

AMHERST — A season where the UMass football team is trying to take its program to new heights will start in a lofty spot.

Colorado’s Folsom Field, which hosts the Minutemen’s opener against the Buffaloes on Sept. 12 at 2 p.m., is nestled in the Rocky Mountains, 5,360 feet above sea level. Only Wyoming (7,215 feet) and Air Force (6,620) have Bowl Subdivision stadiums closer to the sky.

Folsom is actually slightly higher than nearby Sports Authority Field (5,280) at Mile High in Denver and significantly higher than either McGuirk Stadium (144) or Gillette Stadium (22). The loftiest location UMass has played prior to this season is at Nevada-Reno (4,610) in the Division I-AA playoffs in 1978.

But playing in the mountains represents more than a fun metaphor. The air really is thinner at higher altitudes. The affect on kicking and punting is tangible as the balls figure to travel further and hang longer. How it affects players breathing and stamina can vary.

“Boulder is at about 5,300 (feet). Acclimatization issues really come into play at about 7,000 or 7,100 feet above sea level,” said Jennifer Brodeur, the UMass football team’s head athletic trainer. “But psychologically, they come in at about 15 feet above sea level. So we’re doing a lot of things.”

High on the list is hydration. There are signs hanging in the UMass locker room reminding the players to drink fluids throughout the preseason. Players’ weights are monitored and if someone dips too low, they’re given more fluids.

“We’re hydrating them more than we probably would if we were playing later in the season out there or we weren’t playing at altitude,” Brodeur said. “We’ll have almost two whole weeks of almost over-hydration.”

Players with a history of breathing issues will be monitored more than usual.

“We’ll keep and eye on asthma, which can be exacerbated. We have a couple guys who have pretty good cases,” Brodeur said. “We’ll manage them a little bit differently. They’ll use their inhalers more preventively rather than as a rescue inhaler. A couple of them will use a nebulizer before we go to open their lungs a little bit more.”

Like most teams that visit Colorado, Colorado State, Air Force or the Denver Broncos, UMass will rent oxygen tanks.

“I don’t know how many will use it, but we’ll have it as a precaution,” Brodeur said. “Talking to a Colorado athletic trainer, they said visiting teams will come and use it for the first couple series and then it goes by the wayside. It makes the players feel better knowing it’s there.”

The Minutemen, who usually travel to Saturday road games on Friday, will head west on Thursday. They’ll get to practice at Folsom and adjust to the altitude and two-hour time change.

“Just getting on the road, you build more as a football team on the road,” Whipple said. “So we’ll have an extra day.”

Having played at Denver as an NFL assistant, Whipple wasn’t worried about the thin air.

“It didn’t make any difference,” he said. “It’s not like anybody came out and said ‘Aw geez this air is thinner.’ The football field is the same except they have grass.”

OVERNIGHT SCOUTING — The Buffaloes will already have a game under their belts when UMass arrives. Several Minutemen weren’t sure whether they would stay up for Colorado’s game at Hawaii, which was scheduled for 1 a.m. Friday morning.

“I might catch the game or set it for DVR,” senior linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox said. “I’m excited to see them play and see what they look like.”

Whipple was curious to see what the CU defense looked like under new coordinator Jim Leavitt, who spent the last four years coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers.

“We’ll have a better idea at 3 a.m.,” he said.

LINDSAY TO TRAVEL, PLAY — Whipple said true freshman running back Sekai Lindsay will make the trip to Colorado.

“Sekai will get some carries. We’ll piece him in,” Whipple said.

Lindsay joins a crowded backfield to open the season as starter Jamal Wilson and returning veterans Shadrach Abrokwah and Lorenzo Woodley have each started games at times in their careers.

The only other true freshmen likely to make the travel roster for Colorado are kicker Michael Caggiano and defensive back James Oliphant.

KICKERS — Whipple said he hadn’t decided on a placekicker yet as Blake Lucas and Caggiano have been close throughout camp.

“Blake is probably farther ahead. We’ll look at it and tell them when they come back Sunday,” said Whipple, who said the starter wasn’t guaranteed to keep the job. “It could change. It didn’t stay the same last year.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 

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