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It isn’t for everyone.
Bill Parcells often said that playing in the NFL is “not for the well-adjusted.’’
The physical and mental toll of an NFL training camp can break the strongest of men, and it has.
If you like being pushed to the edge of exhaustion, both physically and mentally, in searing summer heat, while having the crap beaten out of you — all with the pressure of trying to earn a roster spot — then this is your calling.
Zach Fulton, a 29-year-old guard whom the Giants signed to a one-year, $1.075 million contract in the offseason, decided this was no longer his calling. He informed head coach Joe Judge on Thursday night that he was retiring because his body simply couldn’t handle the stress anymore.
Fulton’s retirement raised some eyebrows because he was the third player on the Giants to suddenly retire in the previous four days.
A day earlier, Joe Looney, a 30-year-old center the team was hoping would provide depth behind starter Nick Gates, informed Judge that he was retiring. And two days before that, on Monday, 29-year-old linebacker Todd Davis did the same.
Is this a sign that Judge’s training camp is over-the-top difficult?
In fact, for those of us of a certain age who’ve covered the league since the days when two-a-day practices in training camps were the norm (they were voted out by the NFLPA before the 2012 season for the sake of “player safety’’), today’s camps look rather tame by comparison.
That Fulton, Davis and Looney decided to shut it down is neither a question about their toughness and resolve nor a referendum on Judge’s practices being inhumane.
“I’m not in Zach’s head, and I don’t know the reasoning of why he decided to do what he did,’’ Giants reserve offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison told The Post after practice Friday. “Training camp is mentally, physically and, sometimes, emotionally exhausting. The saying sounds cliché, but you have to grind through it. I’m not saying that in relation to [Fulton’s decision to retire], that’s just camp in general.’’
I asked Harrison, who’s in his seventh NFL season and is about the same age (29) as the three players who retired from the Giants this week, if he has ever been tempted to quit when pushed to the brink in training camps.
“Have I had a thought creep in before? Yeah, there’s those tough days, days that you question things,’’ Harrison said. “But the mental toughness is before having those thoughts, being able to talk yourself out of those thoughts.’’
There’s no shame in making the decisions that those three Giants players made this week. It, too, isn’t a poor reflection on Judge and his staff.
Reached by The Post on Friday, Fulton’s agent Rick Smith was adamant about the fact that Judge’s training camp had zero to do with his client’s decision to retire. That’s consistent with the feedback from both Looney and Davis.
Smith, however, declined a request from The Post to speak with Fulton.
For his part, Judge spoke on Friday with enormous compassion for the three players — particularly for a coach who has a reputation as a tough guy, being a Bill Belichick disciple and all.
“I’ve offered every one of these players an opportunity to actually take a couple of days and think about it before making a career-deciding decision,’’ Judge said. “I had a good conversation with Zach [Thursday] night. Zach was doing a good job for us. He’s a guy that I didn’t want to see go. However, I respect his decision. A lot of these older vets, they’re at a different point in their life with different things.
“You have to respect when these guys look us in the eye and say, ‘Listen, I really wanted to see if I could push through it, but I don’t think my body’s at that point,’ and you can leave this point in the game with your health.’’
Judge said he’s “left the door open for all three’’ players to return to the team if they change their minds “based on circumstances that, if something were to happen, they can return if we have room for them.’’
“I’d welcome all three of them back, I really would,’’ he went on. “These are guys we brought in our program because we think they would help the team. They’re three good dudes.’’
Judge acknowledged that “this is a demanding place,’’ adding, “This is a place that will want to work them, but we’re smart about how we work our players, and we’re very calculated. We have to push our players and train them that when they go on the field, No. 1 they’re safe and No. 2 they play effectively. It’s our job to help these players produce on the field and put them in position. It’s training camp.’’
And it isn’t for everyone.
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