There's a long list of must-haves for college football players.
Size. Agility. Speed. Smarts. Tenacity. Strength.
But one necessary attribute is often overlooked.
"You have to have thick skin," Jeremy Beal said.
The Oklahoma defensive end isn't the only one who thinks so. A randomly selected group of players was interviewed last week during Big 12 football media days. Some play for powerhouses, others for cellar dwellers. Some play on the offensive side of the ball, others on the defensive side.
Yet, all of them said they expect harsh treatment from their coaches.
They know they will be pushed, challenged and confronted, and sometimes, that involves antics that aren't G-rated. Yelling. Screaming. Cursing.
"That's just part of it," Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "You know if you make a mistake, you're gonna hear about it."
But is there a limit, a line that no coach should cross?
Two noticeable absentees during media days indicate as much. Mike Leach and Mark Mangino were nowhere to be found. Leach had been the coach at Texas Tech for the past decade, leading the Red Raiders to unprecedented success. Mangino had been the coach at Kansas for eight years, rejuvenating a program that had languished for decades.
Both were fired last December for harsh treatment of players.
'If it gets personal... that's over the line'
Ripples from the dismissals of Mangino and Leach were felt not only in the Big 12 but also across the college football world.
"I think it got everybody's attention," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "I don't think there was any coach that didn't think through what that really meant to them."
Snyder is the league's unofficial dean of football coaches — he has coached the Wildcats for 18 years, returning last season after a three-year retirement — and he contends that football coaches have a complex job. They must prepare players for a rough-and-tumble game, but they must also teach the values of the sport.
"It's about commitment. It's about responsibility. It's about discipline. It's about hard work," Snyder said.
In major college football, it's also about big money.
Every head football coach in the Big 12 has an annual salary in excess of $900,000, and nine of them make $1.8 million or more. That kind of money can create pressure to win at all costs.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said his philosophy on player treatment boils down to two tenets.
"If you're always genuine with them, that doesn't mean you're not chewing their tail out... " he said, "but if you're always genuine, they know what you got.
"Then, I think fairness is critical. Our football team knows if Austen Arnaud screws up, if Alexander Robinson screws up," the coach said, ticking off a couple of the Cyclones' standouts, "they're going to face the same or similar consequences as a player that's third string."
Players at Big 12 media days contend that one other principle of player treatment is important.
"When a coach disrespects you or belittles you as a man... that's when you cross the line," Nebraska wide receiver Niles Paul said.
Beal said, "I don't think it's over the line unless the coaches get personal. If it gets personal and they single you out ... that's over the line."
It's the line that Leach and Mangino crossed.
'They're just trying to get you better'
While the dismissal of both coaches surprised many, the inside details caused the biggest shock waves.
According to an affidavit from Texas Tech head trainer Steve Pincock, wide receiver Adam James suffered a mild concussion during practice leading up to Texas Tech's bowl game. Leach ordered him to spend the next practice standing in a darkened, windowless storage shed. A student trainer was assigned to stand outside the door and check regularly on James. The next practice, the coach sequestered the player in a similarly darkened interview room.
While Leach's refusal to apologize for his actions, as well as a simmering spat with some school leaders, reportedly contributed to his ouster, it's likely he would still be the Red Raider coach had he not treated James that way.
Mangino was fired at Kansas after numerous players came forward with stories of abuse, much of which was verbal. One former player said last winter that the coach would say "personal, hurtful, embarrassing things in front of people" about some players.
According to media reports, the player remembered a teammate who had confided in the team that his father was an alcoholic but that he dreamed of a better life and becoming a lawyer. According to a couple of the players' teammates, one day in front of the entire team, Mangino said to the player, "Are you going to be a lawyer or do you want to become an alcoholic like your dad?"
At both Kansas and Texas Tech, there were players who said they believed the coaches' antics weren't much worse what most college football players experienced.
Several players at Big 12 football media days would disagree.
"I've never experienced that with my coaches," Iowa State defensive end Rashawn Parker said, "and I'm thankful for that."
Paul said, "I've never seen anybody... be belittled as a man."
Echoing those sentiments, Weeden was reminded of a practice when he was at Edmond Santa Fe High School. He was having a bad day, and then-coach Dan Cocannouer was riding him.
"Made me feel like I was this small," said Weeden, holding his fingers only a couple inches apart.
The quarterback pulled out of his funk toward the end of practice, and the coach patted him on the backside and told him how proud he was of him.
"That probably always will stick with me," Weeden said. "If I was a coach, that's the perspective I would take. You've got to know when to ride guys but then again congratulate them."
Players say they can take whatever coaches dish out as long as it doesn't cross the line into being personal. They have the ability to handle it. They have thick skin.
"What goes on between the lines on the football field, it's not personal," Beal said. "They're just trying to get you better.
"You're just going to have to take it."