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Climbing Camelback

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Cardinals players (from right to left) Greg Toler, Sean Morey, Rashad Johnson and Cody Brown make their way up Camelback Mountain last week. 

By 8:15 a.m., the sun is already beating down on whoever has decided to hike Camelback Mountain?s Echo Canyon trail on this day before America?s birthday.That includes the Cardinals? 2009 draft class and Pro Bowl special teamer Sean Morey, along with strength and conditioning coach John Lott.

The climb, which is listed on multiple websites at about 2.4 miles round trip (although Lott and Morey insist the hike pushes closer to three miles when it?s all said and done), has become an anchor of Lott?s rookie strength training program since last year. Sure, he puts the rookies through various sprints and box jumping and the like at the team?s Tempe facility in their month working beyond organized team activities, once the veterans have all but disappeared for the summer. But it?s the hike that creates the memories.

?Nothing they have done,? Lott said, ?is like this.?

Normally, the entire rookie class takes part, but this week, the rookies are split up. The undrafted players came on the normal Wednesday. The draftees, who were at the NFL?s mandatory rookie seminar in Florida most of the week, get this special Friday edition with Lott.

Climbing Camelback is a new thought. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, a long-time friend of Lott?s, first got Lott to hike the mountain soon after the 2007 season. Lott knew nothing about it. Suddenly, he was hooked.

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He?ll make the climb multiple times a week, going in the wee hours of the morning to make sure he makes it to the team facility for the players? work each day. While he loves the idea some veterans will take part ? besides Morey, linebacker Clark Haggans and cornerback Ralph Brown are among the others who have given it a try ? it is the rookies that must deal with the ?beast? in the dead of summer.

Seven of the eight draft picks begin their Friday climb (LaRod Stephens-Howling is still working with a sore hamstring). Morey all but sprints up the rocks. Defensive backs Greg Toler and Rashad Johnson are near the lead most of the work uphill; running back Beanie Wells and linebackers Will Davis and Cody Brown keep a steady pace. Not surprisingly, it?s big linemen Herman Johnson and Trevor Canfield who bring up the rear.

The time isn?t important, however.

?You?re up here and there?s a sense of accomplishment,? Rashad Johnson says at the summit, overlooking the houses below.

Yes, Johnson insists to Lott he knows he could have gone faster. Lott agrees. But Lott, who played briefly in the NFL, said nothing on the football field gives you a similar sense of satisfaction as scaling Camelback.

?It?s about getting an edge,? Lott said. ?It?s about doing it when others aren?t. When others are on the couch, watching Oprah and eating bon-bons, we?re out here on this stinkin? mountain. And it?s hot.?

It?s an example of why Morey has lasted so long ? the willingness for such work. On this day, Morey is a perfect role model for the first-year players. At the bottom following the climb, Toler quizzes Morey about the best techniques to watch video.  At the top of the mountain, Lott yells out ?10 years? ? as in, the length of Morey?s career, thanks to a work ethic that has him at the top of a mountain in July when most veterans aren?t.

It?s a crowded trail this day. The players interact with some of the fellow climbers, many of whom encourage the players while crossing paths. Herman Johnson keeps up his good spirits throughout the hike, even if he does wish for a hang glider to soar off the top and into a swimming pool, rather than negotiate the climb down.

This is the last climb for the rookies. By the end of the following week (or, more specifically, Thursday), Lott will dismiss them until training camp. Unless they follow the lead of guys like Morey, they won?t return.

They?ll know, though, that for a few times in the heat of 2009, they conquered Camelback.

?There is something,? Lott said, ?about that mountain.?


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 7/6/09.

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