A number of NFL players have utilized MMA training in the off season to sharpen their skill set. Similarly, last year University of Massachusetts head football coach Charley Molnar had his players boxing and wrestling on the field.
However, since a video of the practice came to prominence on Youtube, Molnar has come under fire from a group of former University of Massachusetts football players. The group is circulating a petition demanding he "stop the improper treatment of the current players."
The NCAA has since banned the use what it called “combatives," but the practice was legal by NCAA standards when it occured in 2012.
Never the less, several former players spoke out.
Sean Higgins (tight end, 1999)
“It’s unfortunate what’s going on and how guys are being treated. It’s such an embarrassment to the university. I’ve heard how he’s treated former players and coaches. Since he’s been on campus, he’s turned away alumni with his attitude. No one wants to back a guy like that. If he didn’t come off so much like an arrogant politician, maybe we’d support him more. He doesn’t care. The video was just icing on the cake.”
Breon Parker (defensive back, class of 1994)
“So many of us worked so hard to get the program to this point and there is No way I can believe I am associated with the foolishness I saw on that video. That has nothing to do with football. Really obvious why we can’t play tough on the weekends. The kids are misguided. Time for change!”
Chris Hopkins (Offensive lineman, class of 2008)
“Far from any experience at UMass and is totally disgusting to see it coming from a place so rich in traditio. What type of staff has no appreciation for its history and upbringing! If it was not for the past men who have paved the way. It’s sad and infuriating.”
Molnar strenusouly defended the practice.
“We used a number of different training methods to measure and hopefully develop mental toughness and accountability with our guys," said the coach. "It’s hard for a guy to go out there and wrestle or box another man if he has self-doubt."
“We tried to get these guys to feel that fear, but go out there and do it anyway. We never had one guy not go out and box or wrestle. Some of them went out with a lot of trepidation, but by the end of the cycle were thoroughly enjoying the activity. We did all these activities with safety in mind. I’m a fanatic about player safety. I thought it aided in team-building. Guys faced the fear and fought through it. That was the objective.”
Molnar also has the backing of UMass athletic director John McCutcheon.
"In regards to the video that has been out there for over a year, those practices were conducted out in the open," said the AD. "Coaches checked with our compliance staff. We had other administrative staff present at all those sessions. The players never voiced an objection to it. They were done as ways to motivate and do some things in a little different way. You’re not allowed to do football activities, but they’re done as team-building activities as a way to build camaraderie and spirit. Are they out of the box? Yeah, but there were quite a few institutions doing those type of activities at that time.”
From the point of view of an MMA professional, the practice looked like a great idea, with uneven execution. Boxing while wearing a football helmet is safe for the player being hit. There are potentially hand injuries for the striker.
More critically, there is a reason wrestling wrestling has been practiced on a soft surface for at least 3,000 years - takedowns are the single greatest cause of injuries in the sport. Practicing takedowns on frozen ground with inexperienced athletes of different sizes is problematic.
Former quarterback Brandon Hill, who missed time in 2011 due to a shoulder injury, hoped to compete for the job in 2012. He said he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during one of the wrestling matches.
Molnar “had me wrestling a linebacker in the snow,” Hill said. “He put me down and I dislocated my shoulder and completely tore my labrum in half. That kind of bummed me out. I had to go get surgery after that."
Hill, who is now the starting quarterback at Monmouth, in his home state of New Jersey, said the bouts were optional.
“I think it was to see who was tougher and to get us going and pump us up a little bit,” Hill said. “You’re not going to say no. Kids wanted to do it. The nature of football is kind of like wrestling and kind of like boxing. It’s not like it was forced upon us.
“For a quarterback, I don’t think I should have been doing it, but I’m not going to say no to something the head coach wants you to do, especially with a new coach. You want to try to impress him and you’re going to do anything you can to play.”
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