Terrapins turn to yoga for rejuvenation, recovery

October 31, 2012

Every Monday morning at 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. — the team’s day off, no less — two groups of Maryland football players cram into the Gossett Team House defensive line meeting room, whose floors really never stand a chance with all the big bodies stretching and dripping and posing on top.

Various Terrapins have been performing yoga since Ralph Friedgen’s last season in College Park, to help with flexibility and recovery. To practice yoga, they say, is to assume a particular state of mind. Appreciate every minute of tranquility. Ill thoughts beget excruciating experiences. “Yoga can be a pain in the [butt],” defensive lineman A.J. Francis says.

The worst part is the warmup of core exercises and abdominal workouts that, five minutes into the hour-long session, has the Terps begging for a cease-fire. “While you’re there, you wish the world would explode because it’s so painful,” Francis says, equating the experience to squatting in the weight room. Any pain suffered mid-squat is remedied by the morning-after effect, the wonderful soreness and feeling of added strength.

Yoga, however, is for rejuvenation. Two days after a game and one day after practice and lifting, the sessions consist primarily of recovery-based poses and stretching.

“Yoga’s one of those things, you don’t really want to do it,” Francis said. “But we know it’s good for you. I’d never go out of my way to take a yoga class. I’ll put it that way. But I do understand it does have its benefits. When it’s offered, I’d be a [dumb guy] not to take advantage of it.”


A.J. Francis does yoga, and isn’t shamed to admit it. (Associated Press)

Francis is usually joined by tight ends Ryan Schlothauer and Matt Furstenburg, defensive lineman Joe Vellano and offensive linemen Justin Gilbert and Evan Mulrooney. Francis fancies himself a savant at the frog pose or triangle pose. “But I can’t sit Indian style with my feet on my knees,” he says.

Mulrooney, however, has those poses on lock. Maryland’s starting center took yoga classes back home in Wilmington, Del., sometimes with his mother.

“Usually I’m in yoga class with 80-year-old women,” said Mulrooney, a redshirt freshman. “You’ll get down in a position, and I always do this, where I’ll think, ‘Man I must not be that flexible, everyone’s much lower than me.’ Then I look around and realize it’s all 5-foot-2 grandmothers and little dudes. They’re not big. Other than that, it’s pretty funny.”

Whenever Mulrooney is asked to offer up one factoid no one knows about himself in a team-building exercise, he always brings up flexibility. Really, that’s all he has to give. Flexibility is Mulrooney’s claim to fame, the hilarity of watching “a fat guy do a split.”

“I mean, yeah, I’m a little flexible,” Mulrooney said. “Probably more than the average football player. Or human. Whatever you want to go with.”

He hasn’t yet broken out the splits among teammates, but was stretching after a workout weeks ago and wondered if “the old man still had it.” He did. Both legs, too. Just like the old days, spreading out yoga mats and stretching between retirees. Except now he relaxes and breathes and prepares for the week ahead with fellow linemen.

“It’s funny to see the big guys get down,” Mulrooney said. “You hear a lot of grunts, cracks and pops. Every once in a while someone will fart, and it’ll be a nice laugh.”

Mulrooney declined to call out specific teammates, but noted that most other Terps needed work. Maybe they overlook the importance, or are inherently inflexible. It baffles Mulrooney how tight his teammates can be. Then again, it baffled Francis how Mulrooney can so effortlessly whip his ankles onto the opposite thigh.

But even Mulrooney has a limit.

“Headstand? [Heck] no. Not with this belly,” he said. “Put it on my neck? Yeah right. I’ll break my neck.”

Yoga time concludes with a relaxation period for decompressing, unwinding and regaining that healthy mind state. For most, this also means a quick nap.

It may take you hours to fall asleep in your dorm room bed at night. But during that relaxation period, lying on a hardwood floor, five minutes pass and you’ll have a room full of sweaty, smelly, sleeping giants.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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