Dayton Flyers football: One-mile run tradition goes back decades

UD players have been timed in mile run after first practice every year since 1977

As the final minutes of the first practice ticked away and players on the punting team completed one final drill, Rick Chamberlin looked at the Dayton Flyers players on the sideline at Welcome Stadium and told them, “Let’s get loose before the mile.”

» PHOTOS: Dayton holds first practice and runs the mile

It’s common for football players to run sprints after practice. Dayton takes that many steps further. It’s a tradition for the team to run one mile — four laps on the track — after the first practice of the season.

“We’re the only football team in the country that probably does this, whether you’re talking high school, college, pro, whoever,” said Chamberlin, who has been UD’s head coach since 2008 and has spent his entire career in the program. “It’s part of our evaluation of what kind of shape they’re in.”

Coach Rick Carter started the tradition in 1977, his first season at Dayton and Chamberlin’s third as a player. Mike Kelly kept it going during his head coaching tenure (1981-2007).

“I guess I’m a traditionalist at heart,” Kelly told Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon in 1996. “I mean I played football at the same school where my father played and his father before him. It probably sounds boring, but I take my vacation at the same place every year. And with our football program, we do a lot of things the same way year after year. Like at the end of today’s practice, we’ll run the mile. The upperclassmen will bellyache about it, and truthfully, I’m not sure how important it is, but we’ve done it that way for 20 years and we’ve been successful.”

Chamberlin, an assistant coach for the entire length of Kelly’s tenure, kept the tradition going when he became head coach. He has watched and timed his players as they run every season since, with the exception of 2020, when the season was cancelled by the pandemic.

It was back to business as usual on Monday. Most of the players ran without shirts. After finishing their run, the skill players cheered on the linemen who followed them.

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Two stood.out in each group. Sophomore defensive back Nick Dymek, a Hilliard Davidson graduate, posted the best time in the first group (5 minutes, 44 seconds). Freshman defensive lineman Nate Hess, of Arrowhead, Wis., won the lineman run (6:33) by a wide margin.

Kicker Kyle Pignatiello, a Tippecanoe graduate who played for Dayton from 2011-15, owns the Dayton football mile record (5:15).

The run also helps the coaches get an idea of the conditioning levels of the newcomers. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Hess, a first-team all-state selection in the large division in Wisconsin, got his career off to a great start after his first practice as a Flyer.

“I’ve been working all summer long,” Hess said, “so I was ready for it. I wanted to win.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Although measuring the cardiovascular element of the run is important, Chamberlin also uses the run to evaluate the mental toughness of his players. That’s one reason they run after practice when everyone is already tired.

“We’ve got guys who want to win it,” Chamberlin said. “They get out and bust their butt, and guys are trying to catch them. We’ve had sprints down the straightaway as they’re coming to the finish line to see who’s going to win.”

The players also run the mile in the spring, and coaches want the players to finish the August run within 10 seconds of their spring time.

“If not, there is another day, which we call our cardio test,” Chamberlin said. “Our strength coach (Mark Thobe), will run them through a series of sprints . They aren’t really keen on doing the cardio test, so pretty much all of them get within 10 seconds.”

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