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MMI hosts Hoover High ‘training camp’

MARION–They’re going to be on ESPN. They’re going to be on MTV. But first, they’re going to be on the campus of Marion Military Institute.

Three-time defending 6A state football champions Hoover High School arrived in Marion Wednesday for several days of intense practice on the MMI campus. The Bucs are expected to be ranked in the top five of USA Today’s first national prep rankings and are scheduled to play Nease of St. Augustine, FL on ESPN August 27.

Hoover has also agreed for the football team to be the subject of a real-life documentary series produced by MTV, which has dispatched a sizable camera crew to Marion to continue following the Bucs’ preparation.

But before they went national, the Bucs went Black Belt. This summer is not the first time Hoover has looked to give their season a jump-start by moving their first week of practice to MMI and having a de facto “training camp.” From their arrival Wednesday until their departure Saturday, Hoover’s players will live in the MMI dorms and eat in the MMI cafeteria, waking up distraction-free to think, breathe, and live football.

“This is a super place,” says Hoover head coach Rush Propst, who has brought the Bucs to Marion each year of his tenure after first learning about MMI in his previous stint with Alma Bryant High School.

“The food is good, the facilities are good. Down here it’s nothing but football,” he says. “We can get them away from their Mommies and daddies and girlfriends…and the media,” he adds with a grin.

Of course, some media are harder to get away from than others. MTV cameras were on MMI’s Memorial Stadium field Thursday to capture every aspect of Hoover’s afternoon practice: offensive linemen punishing a blocking sled, punt team gunners shrugging off their blockers, defensive tackles strong-arming their way past a series of dummies. Propst spent much of the practice with a boom mike hovering over his head.

Despite the close proximity of the MTV cameras, neither Hoover’s players nor coaches seemed to have any trouble focusing on the business at hand. Propst gave the MTV crews credit for their ability to allow practice to proceed unhindered.

“They’re good at what they do,” he said. “You can tell they’ve done this kind of thing before.”

While Hoover is the most high-profile school to visit Marion this season, between 5 and 10 schools hold such camps at MMI each year. Eight teams will train on campus this season, including schools from as far away as Gwinnett, GA.

Camp program organizer and MMI athletic official David Ivey says that the tradition of MMI hosting summer football camps extends for more than 30 years, with such Alabama football luminaries as Marty Lyons and Ken Stabler having staged camps at the 163-year-old military school. While the camps provide MMI with a needed source of income, Ivey says MMI opens its doors to teams like Hoover for more than just the bottom line.

“The biggest positive is the cash flow,” he says, “but it’s good for publicity, and it’s a good fit for our facilities. It gives us an opportunity to put them to use in the summer.”

Given the domination Propst has maintained at Hoover after kicking the Bucs’ seasons off at MMI, it appears to be a good fit for everybody involved. Ivey says that when a team comes through Marion on its way to success, he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.

“This is the hottest part of the year. It’s kind of like Bear Bryant and Junction City,” Ivey says with a laugh. “The coaches can get [the players] away from everything else and work on making them tougher. What all of them say is that when they come here, they can really, really concentrate on football.”