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The savage hurricane of 1928 filled Lake Okeechobee with rainwater, then blew it over the banks of its inadequate levees. Some 2,500 people died. The Army Corps of Engineers responded by rebuilding the levees much higher—from five to 40 feet in some places. The hard luck of the Muck: While the dike keeps the lake out of streets and living rooms, it also obscures people's views of a spectacular body of water.
As long as a levee was there, Lammons reasoned seven years ago, "we might as well start utilizing it." Since then spring football and fall camp at Pahokee High have begun with a miserable interlude called Hell Week. For five days the Blue Devils don't see the football field, devoting their practice hours instead to a battery of dike-related torments. "Let's see," says Buxton, the cornerback. "We sprint up and over it. Duckwalk it. Hop up it. Backpedal up it."
"Crabwalk," interjects a teammate who sits on the sideline icing his quadriceps.
"Crabwalk, yes," agrees Buxton. "And we do somersaults up the dike."
How is that possible?
"Coach Rick makes it possible."
While there are 45 players on the roster, Blue Devils coach Blaze Thompson relies on a core of 18 to 22, many of whom play both ways. "That's why we condition the mess out of them," Thompson says.
"I remember the last practice I watched at Pahokee," says Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, whose Wolverines squad includes three former Blue Devils. "The first hour, all they did was run."
But Hell Week isn't just for fitness, says Lammons: "We do it for discipline. And we do it for cohesion."
They are long on the latter, short on the former. A disciplined team turns the other cheek. That's not in the Blue Devils' DNA. Part of their mystique is that they will fight at the drop of a hat. Two summers ago Pahokee High was thrown out of a Nike 7-on-7 touch football tournament in Miramar, Fla., after brawling with players at Booker T. Washington High in a sideline-clearing melee. (They were rushing to the aid of a teammate the Tornadoes had surrounded, Pahokee players insist.) With this strike against them, in July the Blue Devils were banished from another Nike 7-on-7, in Beaverton, Ore., on suspicion that one of them had stolen gloves from a mannequin on display at the Nike campus.