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VOL. 42 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 24, 2018

Titans’ wives, girlfriends form their own teams during preseason camp

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Brian Orakpo with his wife Tura and their three children

Anyone who’s been through it can attest to the grind that is a pro football training camp.

Players, coaches, equipment staff and media know the three weeks of eating and breathing non-stop football can take its toll in a number of ways.

And perhaps no one is more aware and more impacted by the grind of camp than players’ wives and families.

Training camp plays no favorites. It doesn’t seem to matter if this is a first training camp as a married couple – in the case of Kevin and Clarke Byard – or the 10th, as Brian and Tura Orakpo are experiencing with their three children.

“I think it’s harder for the women because the players have more of a forced sense of community,” says Clarke Byard, who on July 8 married Kevin, her sweetheart since the 11th grade.

“They have to be with the other players. They have to be around the coaches. They have people that are going through the same things.

“The hardest part is that you go from spending so much time together on your honeymoon to when we got back he pretty much had to check into the hotel. We went from seeing each other all the time to barely seeing each other at all,” she adds.

To compensate, women band together, support each other and form friendships that carry them through the regular season, Byard says.

“For us, we have to kind of make those small groups of women that we make friends with and watch the games together when they’re away,” she says. “The ones who have kids, we try to be there to help with them, with their birthday parties and things that their husbands don’t get to go to.

“A lot of us aren’t from the states that we live in now, so this community is mostly the people we know here. The main thing is just trying to help everybody.”

The Titans’ newlywed safety says it does make for a major life change when camp begins, but that his new bride is adept at handling things around the house.

“We’re pretty much together all the time, but when training camp starts we both understand that my time is limited and we’re not going to be able to see each other every day,” Byard says. “All the stuff like fixing up the house and paying the bills, she’s pretty much doing it on her own, but she’s great with it.”

Many wives and girlfriends take the time to attend camp and watch practice. But in certain circumstances, even that can be subject to change.

Kicker Ryan Succop and wife Paige have a son, 2½, and a daughter. And on the day that Page Succop was supposed to be interviewed for this article, she had to leave early to tend to her daughter, who didn’t exactly appreciate the grind of training camp either apparently.

“The actual three weeks of training camp is hard, especially with a newborn,” Ryan Succop says. “Mama is trying to take care of her and feed her, and then you’ve got a 2-year-old, almost 3-year-old, running around. It’s a busy time for us for sure.”

The nights away from each other are made a little easier by the fact that Titans coach Mike Vrabel allows players to slip away from the hotel for an hour or so during free times between practices and meetings, so long as they are back by curfew.

“Sometime after the night meetings, I can get home for an hour or two after walk-through before we have to be back for curfew,” Succop says. “I’ll try to get there before the kids are down for the night. I’ll try to get my little boy tucked in bed and read a book to him. Then I’ll come back right after that.”

He also talks several times by phone.

Ryan and Paige Succop

“FaceTime (Apple’s videotelephony product is huge,” he adds. “We try to get on FaceTime a couple of times a day. I can kind of see what’s going on. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s total chaos. It just depends on what time of day.”

Like the Succops, the Orakpos have been through the rigors of camp many times. And even though it gets easier once you know the drills, Tura Orakpo says the challenge remains.

“Before kids, it was still tough, because he was gone for a while,” she says. “But when I didn’t have kids, I could just come out and see him every day. But it’s really the same, now that he’s starting his 10th year. I bring the kids pretty much every day until they start school.”

On this particular day, Brian Jr., age 9, was at school, while Tura brought daughters Brianna, 5, and Brea, 9 months, were with her to see dad.

“To be honest, I’m kind of used to it,” she adds. “During football season, I really don’t expect him to be home. The load falls on me anyway, but over time I’ve gotten used to it. It was tough in the beginning, but you pick up your boot straps and keep on moving.”

Still, there are sacrifices that must be made. Tura says she feels bad that Brian couldn’t accompany her to school for their son’s first day of class this year.

“The big thing that really makes it hard is now he’s in elementary school, and Brian misses the first days and the walk ins,” she says.

Still, Orakpo agrees with Succop that Vrabel’s policy does make camp and family time more compatible than some coaches he has played for in the past. Some time with family is certainly better than none at all during camp.

“At the beginning, the transition is definitely tough. You’re away from your family, your kids, your wife, things of that nature,” Brian Orakpo says. “The great thing is that Coach Vrabel gives us enough time, if families are out here, even before games and during practices. Sometimes we have enough time that we can go home and have lunch, or home for dinner.”

Vrabel says he is all for the players having some semblance of a family life during camp, so long as football preparation doesn’t suffer.

“If you can be professional and if you have a little bit of time, I think you understand that you have to have a balance between football, teammates, coaches and your family or your friends – your life outside of football,” Vrabel says. “And if they can maintain that balance, do their work, go home to see their families, then get back in time for bed check, then I’m all for that.”

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