UT football prepares for high altitude in Utah

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David Ash and the rest of the Longhorns trained in the offseason for the higher altitude in Provo. There, the air is thinner making it more difficult to breath. The team ran drills in silicone masks that restricted their airflow, simulating the effects at higher altitude. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Four years ago, the Longhorns thrashed Wyoming 41-10 in their first road game of 2009. Despite the impressive score, head coach Mack Brown believes his team struggled to adjust to the higher altitude in Laramie. 

“We didn’t handle it well at Wyoming a couple years ago,” Brown said. “It got to us.”

Texas will face a similar issue this week when it travels to Provo, Utah to take on Brigham Young University. Although Provo’s elevation is considerably lower than Laramie’s, junior quarterback David Ash expects the thinner air to have a slight impact.

“I’m sure there will be an adjustment,” Ash said. “We played in Wyoming a few years ago at 7,000 feet. It was tough on some guys. This is half that, 4,000 feet. There will be an adjustment, but I think we’ve got plenty of depth and I think we’ll be okay.”

A number of Longhorns seconded Ash, stressing that the team’s depth allows it to filter productive reserves in throughout the game to keep the starters fresh. Because of this, junior linebacker Jordan Hicks doesn’t expect the change in elevation to affect the game.

“We don’t expect it to,” Hicks said. “We’re playing two deep everywhere, so we hope that gives an advantage. We’re not worried about the altitude; we’re just ready to go.”

Despite this, sophomore running back Johnathan Gray said the coaching staff has emphasized the importance of being in prime physical condition for the matchup against the Cougars. Thinner air makes it harder for oxygen to reach a person’s muscles, making strong conditioning a must in preparing for the increased elevation. 

“Coaches are just [stressing] hydrating and getting extra conditioning in,” Gray said. “We’re just doing things that help us prepare.”

Senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is particularly unlikely to be affected by the altitude increase after spending the offseason training in Colorado. Jeffcoat was one of many Longhorns to wear a mask that reduced oxygen as a conditioning exercise over the summer, but he believes it’s hard to emulate the difference in air pressure without playing in it.

“[The masks] were really just to get in shape,” Jeffcoat said. “They were the kind of thing to just teach us how to breath with limited oxygen. It’s different when you are actually in [higher altitude]. They understand there’s going to be a difference in the air. The air is thinner.”

Brown is used to preparing for games in high elevation, as his Texas teams made regular trips to Colorado when the Buffaloes were in the Big 12. Although none of his current players ever made the trip to Boulder, Brown considers his team’s depth and preparation to be enough for the Longhorns to be ready for Saturday.

“We usually handled it well at Boulder,” Brown said. “We’ve been talking about this for a year. Provo isn’t as high as Boulder. I think we’re ready for it and depth should help us.”