JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before BYU's practice on Thursday at a local high school, defensive tackle Chris Hoke choked down a small cup of pickle juice.
He wasn't the only one. The Cougars are hoping that swallowing doses of the sour stuff will maximize their performance when they take on Florida State Saturday night.
How? Well, the last time BYU played in the deep south, in 1998, it opened the season at Alabama and several Cougars cramped up in the 90-degree heat, limiting their playing time. BYU lost, 38-31.
Fullback Kalani Sitake, one of the Cougars who was affected that night, says Jacksonville isn't quite the sauna that Tuscaloosa is. "It's cooler here," he said. "Over there it was hot. We were sweating in the buses on the way to the stadium."
The memory of the Alabama game is still fresh in the mind of BYU head trainer George Curtis, who has taken every precaution imaginable to guard against the effects of the South's heat and humidity.
"We're trying everything," Curtis said.
Including pickle juice. He asked BYU personnel who serve training table meals to the team in Provo to save all the pickle juice they could the last couple of weeks so Curtis and his staff could bring it to Jacksonville for players to drink. Which begs the question: Why pickle juice?
"It has to do with the vinegar and saline content it has," Curtis explained. "It is supposed to reduce cramping. I heard about it at a national convention, and teams like the Philadelphia Eagles are using it. It's been theorized that it works." That may be so, but it doesn't make the pickle juice taste good. "George says it will give us a little more energy, a little more jump in our legs," Hoke said. "It really helps. I felt good. Except for when it went down and burned my throat."
In addition, BYU has purchased eight Cool Zone machines — large fans that spray cool air and mist — that will be on its sidelines Saturday at Alltel Stadium. Temperatures are expected to be in the 80s by kickoff.
Dr. Mitchell Pratt, who is the newest member of the BYU medical staff, is responsible for administering IVs to players when necessary. Pratt has practiced giving up to 60 IVs per day to patients at local hospitals so he could learn to do the procedure quickly in a pressure situation. And, of course, Curtis is instructing players to take vitamin supplements and drink large quantities of liquid every day.
Yet despite all his best efforts, he knows that cramping is inevitable.
"Early in the season, you're going to have cramping," Curtis said. "There's so much adrenaline and emotion there. That makes it prevalent. It's not just a heat issue. Some of it may have to do with emotions. Heat, humidity and emotion are all factors. We're shooting in the dark in this. I guarantee you that someone will cramp up no matter what we do. If there was a (bonafide) answer, wouldn't everybody be doing it?"