Former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer shares his training camp secrets… (Charles Cherney / Tribune )
Hunter Hillenmeyer wore a Bears uniform for eight seasons, so there's no question he knew his way around training camp. He's now the co-founder of OverDog, a company that lets fans play video games with athletes.
RedEye asked the former linebacker what he needed to survive at camp, which begins for the Bears on Wednesday in Bourbonnais.
Oh yeah, he also dishes on some of the best pranks. Watch out, rookies!
What items are on a veteran's packing list that a rookie would not know to bring?
[Laughs.] You know what? I think it usually goes in the other direction. Vets tend to go minimalist. They just bring the basics and don't bring any of the fluff. The weirdest things that I brought that I don't think a rookie would know is 2-foot-wide, heavy duty aluminum foil that you would use to black your windows out. Because your nap time in between practices is almost the best sleep you get. Because when you're sleeping at night, you're so paranoid you're going to sleep through your 5 a.m. wakeup that I would wake up every hour on the hour. Throw in the fact that you're drinking so much Gatorade and staying hydrated that you have to walk down the hall and go to the bathroom every 25 minutes, and having blacked out windows for great naps is absolutely at the top of your list of important things for training camp.
There are a couple other goofy nuances of training camp. I would always bring a new season of some show. Like now, I would probably be taking two seasons worth of "Game of Thrones" to catch up. I always had some show I was catching up on in training camp. I would get home after our last meeting – which usually ended around 9 or 10 o'clock – and power through two or three episodes of that and then go to bed.
What were you watching during your last year with the Bears?
I think my last two seasons, one of them I spent on "The Sopranos" and the other one I spent on "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia."
So if the veterans know how to pare down the list, what are the items that rookies bring that you learn not to bring?
A college training camp is like two weeks, and an NFL training camp is like a month and change, and you have [preseason] games during it. So it's just a different mentality. You do have to get a little more settled in to an NFL training camp just because they're so long. But at the same time they have everything down there relative to the isolation of a college training camp. You have a moment to run to Walgreens and get something that you need in the NFL. So whether it's a fan, or the TV shows, or you want to run out and get a sandwich at lunch, you actually have a little more freedom in NFL training camp than you do in college.
Were there any rookies during your time who really got it quickly? Who were the first guys to pick up on the tin foil attitude?
You know what? When you're a rookie in training camp, the best thing you can do is find a vet and mirror everything they do. This is going to be difficult to describe, but our AC in the dorm rooms were window units, and maybe it's because they're not used to having college students there in the summer, those window units you have to turn up to full blast to keep your room cold.
But the problem is that there's four floors in these dorms. The offensive line and defensive line are on the first floor, and then all the other vets are on the second floor, all the young, first contract guys are on the third floor, and all the rookies are on the top floor. If you have anybody above you, those AC units put off a ton of condensation. And the result is that they drip on the unit the floor below them. So you're trying to sleep or you're trying to take a nap, and you've got this rhythmic, tin roof sound coming from right outside your window when you're trying to sleep. That always drove me up a wall.
And so it was around my third training camp where I learned that if you would go to the room above you, hang your head out the window, and drop a few towels on top of your air conditioning unit, that you could get rid of the drip noise from keeping you up during nap and nighttime. And I always thought that was my ultimate vet move, to find a way to get rid of the drip noise from the AC unit above mine. That's something that I don't think any rookie would be able to figure out in their first year. [Laughs.]
Are you worried at all though while you're taking these afternoon naps about getting pranked?
[Laughs.] You obviously talked to Peanut [Charles Tillman].