The Syracuse University football team opened up its preseason camp Saturday in typical fashion, as players reported to campus and the team held its annual media day at Manley Field House. However, this year’s camp will feature a most unusual excursion.
Head coach Doug Marrone will take the team to Fort Drum, home of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, for a week of camp Aug. 12-18. The team will travel to the base to practice and to train alongside military personnel, culminating in a scrimmage for soldiers and their families.
“Our reason for going up there is becoming a better football team so we can win,” said Marrone. “We’re looking to get some of the discipline; we’re looking to get some of the practical leadership principles and we look forward to what the soldiers and the administration at Fort Drum have to offer.”
The players realize they have a lot to learn from the men and women in uniform.
“Everybody says football is like a war, but I say it’s really not,” said senior defensive back Shamarko Thomas. “All we’re doing is putting on helmets and stuff. We’re not going out there with guns and worrying about bombs and stuff. So I’m just going to go in there and take all the knowledge in, learn from them. I want them to teach me how to be disciplined and determine how to be a real leader.”
“You kind of don’t know what to expect, but I think it’s going to be a great experience for us as a football team to bring us together. I can’t wait to do it.” sophomore defensive lineman Jay Bromley added. “I hope that we build better team camaraderie, we get to know one another as a team and build confidence in one another so that when we come back from it our team is much stronger.”
Wide receivers coach Rob Moore thinks the lack of distractions will help the team develop into a tougher, more cohesive unit.
“Any time you go somewhere and you don’t have to compete with Playstations and cable TV and all those other things, and it’s just football, that’s what your focus is going to be,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing some great results from that.”
Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib believes that the trip will provide a welcome break to the normal routine of fall camp.
“I think its going to be fun ... it breaks up the monotony of camp,” he said. “Coming to Manley four weeks in a row, it kind of gets old after a while. Going away, being secluded from all the distractions that come around from being on the Hill, I think it can only make our team better, help us zone in and really grow as a team.”
The trip is the latest attempt to turn things around after a disappointing 5-7 season that saw the Orange drop their final five games. According to Marrone, these changes are simply the result of efforts begun months ago.
“A lot of people come back and they say, ‘Ok, here we go. We’re starting today,’ ” said Marrone. “We haven’t started today. We started this in January.”
The team named former NFL defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson defensive backs coach and hired Steve Morrison as linebackers coach to shore up a unit that gave up 28.5 points per game last year. Offseason workout routines included a “boot camp” designed to increase players’ strength and stamina. The team hopes that these changes, combined with lessons learned from a difficult season a year ago, will pay dividends in the near future.
“Those young guys now see it’s not easy to win. It takes more than just thinking we can,” said senior defensive lineman Deon Goggins, “You’ve got to go out there ready to battle each time. I really, truly believe a lot of guys got that last year, and they don’t want to repeat that again. They don’t like the feeling.”