Welcome to the N.F.L.’s Luxury Camp in the Mountains


The camp’s remoteness has created logistical challenges, demanding of Smith and his staff more forethought when inviting free agents for workouts. With the closest major airports 80 miles (Roanoke, Va.) and 120 miles (Charleston, W.Va.) away, coordinating travel is essential.

The isolation has also produced meager crowds, a natural consequence of training 1,200 miles from home, in an area not easily accessible by major commercial airlines. Instead of drawing a few thousand fans as they would in Houston, the Texans attracted at most 300 for each of two sessions last week, and the atmosphere was lacking because of it.

Among the sparse crowd was Richard Porfirio, 28, of suburban Clear Lake, Tex., who loaded camping equipment into his 2005 Nissan Maxima and set off to watch his favorite football team. “Why not?” he said.

The primary beneficiaries have been displaced Texans fans like Jennifer Brannan, 42, of Frederick, Md. She and her husband, Kevin Spurgers, 46, a native Houstonian, booked a vacation here with their children, Finn, 6, and Grace, 4, as soon as the camp dates were announced. Hanish Patel, 28, who is from the Houston area, moved to Roanoke in June to begin a residency in internal medicine and considered the Texans’ arrival mutually beneficial.











“Can you imagine training in July and August in Texas?” Patel said. “It’s brutal by 7 a.m. there.”

The temperature here on Thursday last week topped out at 82 degrees. It was, players said, the hottest day to that point. As a cool breeze wafted through the air, Covington remarked, “If we were in Houston, we’d be melting.”

Fiedorowicz said: “Mentally, by the end of practice, your brain would be fried. You’re just exhausted. I’m coming out here every day, and I’ve got energy.”

For years, Smith said, the Texans studied the cumulative effects of training in intense heat. They wondered, for instance, whether warm-weather teams fared better or worse at the beginning and end of the season, but no worthwhile patterns emerged.

Photo

Signs in the resort and around White Sulphur Springs welcoming the Texans. The team announced in February it would hold its camp at the Greenbrier, about a week after the New Orleans Saints said they would not be returning.

Credit
Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Last August, though, the Texans practiced with the 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., and the team’s tracking data revealed that players were able to endure a greater workload in the cooler weather — and at the fast tempo favored by Chip Kelly, San Francisco’s coach at the time — without their bodies absorbing as much wear and tear.

Smith said that he had already scouted alternative training camp sites, at Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., and the United States Military Academy at West Point, but that the revelation at 49ers camp had further motivated him. He spoke with his New Orleans counterpart, Mickey Loomis, to express interest in shifting to the Greenbrier if the Saints ever decided to leave.

Smith said the Texans, who will practice with the Patriots here next week before leaving West Virginia on Thursday, were committed to spending at least two summers here.

Such continuity would deepen the Texans’ ties to a region about 225 miles from the nearest N.F.L. team, the Carolina Panthers, in Charlotte, N.C. Residents’ allegiances tend to tilt even farther afield, toward the Pittsburgh Steelers (260 miles away), the Washington Redskins (270) and, as of 2014, the Saints (880).

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