At a time when most of their peers are either sleeping or attending church, the Fenwick High School football players are doing something a little out of the ordinary.
Yes, the Friars practice the ancient discipline for an hour every Sunday during the season. The 7 a.m. sessions, which began last year at the behest of head coach Gene Nudo, are taught by Rizelle Capito, who teaches music and directs the band at Fenwick, where she is chair of the Expressive Arts Department.
“Out in Arizona when I was (coaching) with the Rattlers (of the Arena Football League), we used to do yoga,” Nudo said. “For years we used to have kids run the day after a game, but particularly with the big 300-pound lineman, they’d be out of gas.
“(With yoga) you get blood flow to areas you normally have trouble getting it to. And it calms the guys down.”
Capito, who has been practicing yoga for about a decade, became a certified instructor in 2012 and started offering classes for Fenwick students and faculty the following year. When Nudo learned of it, he asked her to start a program for the football team, which began practicing last year.
“Coach Nudo approached me and I was totally on board with it,” Capito said. “The kids get beat up in a game and it’s good for them to get some relaxation. It helps them recover.”
To athletes used to intensive exercise like running, tackling and lifting weights, yoga can seem a foreign concept with its system of stretching, breathing and meditation exercises.
“At first kids were apprehensive because their mothers thought it was a great idea,” Nudo said. “But it’s not just moms that do yoga. There are a lot of men that are into it. It’s a way of life for many of them.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything revolutionary,” he added. “It’s an hour of yoga and an hour of watching film the morning after games. A lot of easy movement and focusing.”
Capito, who has many football players in class, said the feedback has been positive.
“They’ve responded well,” Capito said. “Now that it’s our second year of doing it, the guys now see it’s part of training. It’s like practice.
“Some of them get more into it than others and some are there only because they have to be, but it challenges them in different ways.”
Senior linebacker Brian Doyle, a co-captain, is a supporter.
“When we first heard about it we didn’t know what to expect,” Doyle said. “It was a big surprise.
“But the day after the game your body is pretty sore. Our teacher is very good about getting you relaxed and not worrying about anything. It’s a nice approach.”
Nudo is happy both with his players’ reaction to yoga and its results, noting that yoga is another way to build core strength.
“When you’re a football player and you’re in season, you have a set routine and not a lot of free time,” Nudo said. “This helps them recuperate after the game. During the season our weightlifting during the week is pretty light. Our weight training in the off-season is more intense.”
Capito’s yoga teaching also benefits the Friars in another way.
“A lot of kids have her in class, so the kids can see how diverse of a person she is,” Nudo said. “It’s good for them to see teachers in a different light. It’s something I’m pleased with.”
Doyle is pleased with the results he’s seen from yoga.
“It’s definitely helped me get relief to my legs,” he said. “It’s something that will prove beneficial going forward. I would definitely recommend it to other players.”
While Nudo said that yoga will remain part of the Friars’ training, he has yet to partake in the sessions himself.
“That would not be a pretty sight,” Nudo quipped. “I would look like a sausage in one of those outfits. But I should probably start because it would be good for me.”