Two years ago when it was announced that the New Orleans Saints would hold training camp at Millsaps College in Jackson, it was considered the biggest news to hit the city’s sports scene in decades.
With a first-year coach in Sean Peyton, new quarterback Drew Brees, rookie running back Reggie Bush and former Ole Miss star Deuce McAllister, there was plenty of reason for excitement.
The Saints kicked off their third year in Jackson last Thursday. Brees, Bush and McAllister still headline their arrival — along with newly acquired tight end Jeremy Shockey from the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants — and while the original euphoria has faded a bit, the specter of having an NFL team, specifically one that enjoys such rabid fan support in the Jackson area, in town still leaves football fans fired up.
Behind the scenes
Lost in all the excitement, though, are the countless hours of work that go on behind the scenes to make sure training camp goes smoothly.
Example: Just how much work – not to mention food – does it take to feed an 80-man roster of players, plus dozens of coaches and dozens more of support personnel, for three weeks?
A rough answer:
• 300-325 pounds a day of protein (beef, chicken, pork, fish)
• 450 pounds a day of fruits and vegetables
• 250 pounds a day of starch (pasta and potatoes)
That’s more than half a ton of food per day, and the man in charge of getting it prepared and on to the table is David “Chef Dave” Woodward, chef and manager of dining services at Millsaps.
“It is a lot of work,” Woodward acknowledges, “but it’s fun. When else do you get to feed an NFL team? It’s for bragging rights.”
On a typical day, Woodward and his staff at the school’s cafeteria will arrive at 4:30 a.m. and start preparing that day’s meals. Coaches and trainers sit down to eat around 6; the players arrive shortly thereafter. Then practice begins and Woodward and his team kick off preparations for lunch.
“We get them all for lunch, coaches, trainers, players, everybody,” Woodward ways.
On top of three scheduled meals, Woodward says often he and his staff will do catering jobs — things like hot dogs and hamburgers — for the players to have at practice. Woodward and his workers generally head home by 9 p.m.
Fueling the fire
Because August in Mississippi is sometimes intolerably hot, and because an NFL player can burn hundreds of calories an hour during camp, a diet heavy on carbohydrates is essential.
“These guys are expending a tremendous amount of energy every day,” said Dan Dalrymple, strength and conditioning coach for the Saints. “And if they’re not eating healthy food, their bodies can break down. A lineman can lose 20 to 30 pounds in one practice.
“So we really want them to eat a good ratio of carbs and proteins, but very little fat because too much fat can really hinder hydration.”
To meet the nutritional demands of the Saints, Woodward and nutritionists with the team will formulate a menu. Woodward will send the team recipes, nutritionists will make changes and send them back, and that process will repeat until an acceptable culinary roster is forged.
The Saints will be in town for only three weeks this year. In 2006, their first camp in Jackson, the team worked out at Millsaps for five weeks, using the NFL rule that allows first-year coaches to hold extended training camps. Standard training camp length is four weeks, but the Saints will stay in Mississippi one week less than that to return to New Orleans to prepare for their August 16 preseason game against the Houston Texans.
The shortened stay will represent a lessened workload for the foodservice staff, compared with the last two Saints camps.
With the NFL rule allowing for an extended training camp, and Millsaps hosting the team for the first time, Woodward admits that 2006 was the toughest year.
“On top of having (the Saints) here, we had the Millsaps athletic teams on campus and they had to eat, usually from an entirely different menu, and on top of that we had incoming freshman about to hit campus.
“So by the time the Saints left we had 36 hours to get everything back to normal and get ready for the fall semester.
“It was a fun year,” Woodward said, laughing.
For the Saints training camp schedule, visit www.neworleanssaints.com.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .