- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Cedric Reed will not explain the masks. To do so would require revealing what he considers confidential information. Not gonna happen.
“The masks? Uh, I can’t really comment on those man,” the Texas defensive end said Monday. “They definitely helped. I can’t really comment much on them, though. Secret weapon. That’s classified right there.”
Luckily, Reed’s teammates and coaches were a bit more forthcoming. Texas players used elevation training masks during their workouts this summer to better prepare for the challenge of playing at BYU on Saturday.
BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium sits at an elevation of 4,630 feet. There are real challenges to playing there, and Texas was proactive in preparing for the test.
On occasion during the summer workout sessions, current and former Longhorn players posted photos on Twitter of the strange new black masks they’d been wearing.
— Derrick Johnson (@superdj56) July 15, 2013
These had a clear purpose. What exactly do the masks do? That information is not so classified.
The silicone masks are designed to mimic the effects of high-altitude training and are essentially deconstructed gas masks. They reduce air flow, which improves lung capacity by forcing an athlete to inhale deeper breaths. The goal? To use oxygen more efficiently.
“We wore them to make sure we were in shape,” Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “They were the kind of thing that teaches us how to breathe with limited oxygen, because it was cut off.”
By achieving better efficiency, Texas players will have far better endurance in high-altitude settings. In fact, companies like Training Mask that sell them tout the mask’s ability to reduce workout times “from 60 minutes to 20 minutes” and improve endurance when playing at normal sea-level conditions as well.
Texas strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie has been credited with the savvy move of equipping the Longhorns with these masks during summer workouts, and Reed said the team had never used these before this summer.
“I just told [Wylie], ‘Have ‘em ready for altitude,’” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
The altitude factor was nothing new for Jeffcoat, who spent time training in Colorado during the offseason now that his father, Jim Jeffcoat, is an assistant coach for CU. But he does think the experience was valuable for his teammates.
“They understand there’s going to be a difference in the air,” Jeffcoat said. “The air is thinner.”
Brown isn’t so sure the elevation at BYU will be as bad as expected. He looked up the numbers a few days ago.
BYU may play ball at 4,630 feet, but that’s not as bad as what Texas has dealt with in the past in games at Colorado (5,360 feet above sea level) and Wyoming (7,215). Brown went 3-0 in his road games at Colorado while the school was in the Big 12.
“So we don’t think it should be near the issue,” he said. “The only issue I’ve ever had was when we went to Wyoming. It was an issue, and we didn’t plan on it being one. So we didn’t want to go to Provo and not talk about it and not be prepared more.”
Many teams have come to Provo with a plan for the altitude and still gone home a loser. Under coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has won 85 percent of its home games since 2005.
Having a serous home-field advantage has helped, there’s no doubt about that. Texas players hope a summer spent working to neutralize that advantage will pay dividends.
When Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks was asked Tuesday what effect the elevation will have Saturday, he was firm and resolute in his answer.
“We don’t expect it to,” he said. “We’re playing two-deep at every position. I think that gives us an advantage. We’re not worried about that.”
Thanks to the extra time he and his fellow Longhorns spent with those masks on, he doesn’t have to care about the air.