- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Julius Peppers arrived at Carolina Panthers training camp with a small army of workers carrying a sofa, chairs, a 52-inch television, a full-size bed and even end tables.

Then the carpet installer arrived.

Each summer oversized NFL players leave their mansions for Spartan training camps where they squeeze into college dormitory rooms with small beds and shared bathrooms. But some players to go to extremes to make it a little more comfortable.

Peppers, a Pro Bowl defensive end, doesn’t like to wake up and put his bare feet on a linoleum floor at a Wofford College dorm, so he added wall-to-wall carpeting.

“I just brought a rug,” teammate Mike Minter said. “Every year somebody comes up with something different. The man put in his own carpet!”

While Peppers unloaded his furniture, Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan showed up with the latest accessory for NFL stars — a personal hyperbaric chamber.

The device, made famous when Terrell Owens used it to help recover from a broken ankle in time to play in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, forces more oxygen into the bloodstream and is believed to speed recovery. Minnesota safety Darren Sharper also brought one to camp.

“You get in it and zip it up, and it feels like you’re taking off in a plane. Your ears pop,” said Morgan, who spends up to one hour a day inside. “It takes a little getting used to, but it works real good.”

Like the only freshman with his own car, Morgan has teammates looking to bum “rides” in the chamber, which takes up half the room.

“They all want to get in it, but I told them it’s $200 a pop,” he said. “I can’t have everybody going in and out of my room all day.”

Sharper, who used a hyperbaric chamber to recover from a sprained knee last season, said he’s getting a lot of teasing from teammates. “They laugh at it. They call me Michael Jackson,” he said.

But Sharper won’t go anywhere without it, describing the device as “a fountain of youth.”

Even with all their goodies, some players try to avoid dorm life altogether.

A lucky few, such as Detroit receiver Eddie Drummond, play for teams that choose hotels over dorms.

Unlike Peppers, Drummond travels light. He brought one item to camp — his cell phone. He didn’t even bring clothes.

“I just wear the NFL stuff they give us,” he said. “That’s all I need.”

Others “need” a lot more and improvise.

Former Panthers center Jeff Mitchell used to bring a motor home to camp, so the offensive linemen had an air-conditioned escape where they could play cards and relax during breaks.

This summer tackle Jordan Gross stepped up and cut a deal with a local retailer. Now a new motor home sits in a parking lot near the dorm.

“I think it’s good for the group to have a little spot where we can all go and hang out at night,” Gross said. “You can get a little bonding time that way.”

It has been so hot at camp that one lineman a day has been assigned to keep the RV running.

“We discovered we needed to start up the RV in the morning and get the air conditioning going,” center Justin Hartwig said. “We went out there and roasted, but we get some card games in and it’s a good place to unwind.”

The rigors of training camp can be a revelation.

Carolina first-round pick DeAngelo Williams asked coach John Fox about the cable TV at the team hotel.

“He said, ‘Hotel? We’re staying in a dorm,’” said Williams, who can’t even see the TV from his dorm bed. “I had no idea.”

New Panther Keyshawn Johnson, at his first dorm-based camp in eight years, also was caught off guard. After checking into Wofford, he headed right out in search of some high thread count sheets for his twin bed.

“The bed is small,” Johnson griped.

Maybe next year he’ll follow Peppers’ example.

Peppers downplayed questions about his do-it-yourself room upgrade.

“I just brought a bed and a sofa in, it’s not really a big deal,” he said. “I just want to comfortable in the dorm room at night.”

Teammate Minter understands comfort is key: “If that’s going to make him get 20-something sacks this year and break the record, we’ll do it every year.”

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