By Daniel Hill
An ominous black flag hangs from the Allison Indoor Football Practice Facility with a skull and crossbones that reads, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” It’s 6 a.m. and every young Baylor football player knows he is about to face an hour and a half of the most brutal, torturous workout he can possibly imagine.
Welcome to agoge (a-GO-gee).
On the week of every Baylor football game, a special rite of passage within the program takes place every Friday morning at 6 sharp. Agoge is a brutal conditioning session for redshirt and back up football players that every one of them dreads. The goal of agoge is to make football players more mentally and physically tough. If you can survive agoge, that proves that you have the mental and physical fortitude to succeed as a Big 12 football player.
“It’s kind of what defines you as a Baylor Bear,” redshirt freshman defensive tackle Trevor Clemons-Valdez said. “It’s something that you’ve got to do to earn stripes in this program, and it makes us the team that we are today. We never give up, and we keep battling. It’s basically every crazy thing that you think a strength coach could come up with in his head to put you through hell for an hour and a half, all combined into one little fun session.”
The concept behind agoge is to force the younger players and backup players to mature and learn how to work as a team. The challenges of agoge will help the team down the road when it competes on the gridiron.
“The concept of agoge is to make you grow up,” junior safety Sam Holl said. “They try to grind you and break you down until you think you can’t do something, and they make you push through it. I think it definitely develops you as not even just a football player, but as a person. Getting through that is a goal. You want to do it.”
Historically, agoge was the training that every Spartan male had to endure in order to become a warrior.
In the same mold as the Spartans, Baylor football players have to endure agoge before they can step on the field as Baylor Bears.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” junior nickelback Ahmad Dixon said. “If you don’t have teamwork, then you won’t make it through it. You do drills and all kinds of different stuff in there, but it’s not anything that you can just explain to somebody else. It’s something you have to see.”
Every Baylor football training session is filled with intensity, but agoge is different because the strength coaches create a sense of chaos among the athletes. Therefore, the football players have to work as a team to overcome the challenges of the workout.
“They get into your mind,” Dixon said. “If you are not there mentally, you won’t even make it through agoge. You can be there physically, you can be the strongest guy and all of that, but if they get into your head, you’re done for. But that’s when your teammates have to go in, and they have to uplift you and encourage you to keep you fighting. It’s tough in there. The things that you go through when you are in agoge, it’s like, wow, I never would have thought that a football player would have to do all this stuff. But you learn from it and you learn about your teammates because of it.”
One aspect of agoge is training with poles. Each pole weighs hundreds of pounds and every man is responsible for holding onto and supporting a section of the weight. Because the weight is spread out evenly to each athlete, if one person falters or struggles with his weight, then the weight gets heavier for everybody else. As a result, surviving agoge truly requires a team effort.
“The poles are hard,” Holl said. “Everything really in agoge is just to break you down and get you stronger mentally and physically.”
With the poles held overhead or curled to their stomachs, the players will do coordinated exercises such as sit-ups, lunges or military presses for a long time. Plus, there is one rule: the pole can never touch the ground.
“I mean I’d rather run for miles and miles than do agoge,” Dixon said. “I can control my breathing during running and all that, but during agoge, if your teammate is slacking, then you’re pretty much slacking because you have to hold up their weight, and if you do it for too long, then you won’t be able to hold up that weight. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done.”
Aside from the poles, there are other drills that are equally exhausting in agoge.
“The army crawl, where you have everyone in a line and you are all in a plank position,” Dixon said. “Then the last guy has to crawl all the way down to the end of the line, and the next guy can’t go until the other guy is back into the planking position. If one person’s knee touches the ground, then everyone has to start all the way over. That might be the hardest thing that I’ve done when I was in agoge.”
Even though agoge often feels like punishment or even torture, once the players make it through agoge, they realize all the lessons they’ve learned because of it.
“To look to your right and look to your left and know that the guy next to you is as beat down as you are, as tired as you are and as mad as you are from everything that you’re doing, and know that you can look through him in his eyes and know that he wants to finish this and get it done,” Clemons-Valdez said. “That’s the same thing that it comes down to in the fourth quarter. Where if you can look next to you either way, right or left, and the guy next to you is going to fight as hard as he can to finish this game, it really builds the camaraderie between you and your brothers.”
Because they have conquered agoge, Baylor football players are confident that they can overcome any challenge they might face on the football field.