Syracuse training at Army base to build teamwork
From the end of the firing line made up of Syracuse football players, Captain Zach Johnson of the 10th Mountain Division shouted at them to keep talking to each other to maintain the communication needed to take out the enemy.
As the Orange shot their fake weapons into the virtual screen in front of them, aiming at the enemy soldiers appearing from behind hills in a vast desert, the main purpose of the activity translates to the football field.
''They were telling us communication is key, and I believe we're doing the same thing out here,'' running back Prince-Tyson Gulley said. ''Learning how to communicate with each other and stuff like this. This is working out for us.''
The Orange are spending the week at Form Drum, a U.S. Army post about 80 miles north of Syracuse. Aside from the daily routine of practicing football, Syracuse's players are training with members of the military and participating in team-building activities.
Coming off a 5-7 season, the Orange are trying everything they can to improve and take a step forward. The team is hoping a week away to focus solely on football and teamwork makes that happen.
The players live in barracks and every night eat dinner with the soldiers on base to connect with them and learn about their lives in the military.
On Wednesday, the defense participated in physical training, and ran through several drills intended to build communication and teamwork. One involved the players having to move logs a distance of about 20 feet while only stepping on tires.
In another, the players had to move a dummy using three litters, and only an even number of players could be on each litter at once.
In each drill, the players shouted words of encouragement and continuously reminded each other of the instructions and rules.
''It's a very big help. Coach brought us here for a reason,'' defensive tackle Davon Walls said. ''He really wanted us to come together as a unit and be accountable for whatever we do. I believe we're going to do what we had to do.''
The offense went through simulated combat activities. In the virtual firing line, the soldiers running it repeatedly reminded them to communicate.
The connection to football was evident. The firing line of Syracuse players was the offensive line trying to protect the quarterback from the enemy troops coming at them.
''We were lined up in different spots and we had targets,'' guard Zach Chibane said. ''So there's definitely a football relation there.''
The drills were both physically and mentally trying. And they might have taken a toll on the players for practice in the afternoon.
Coach Doug Marrone said the team had to repeat a period because it wasn't up to standard.
''Today was a challenging day. As coaches, you're always challenged. You try and push the players and get the most out of them,'' Marrone said. ''Like I told the players, everyone in the country is going through this type of working environment, and camp is tough.''
Still, this week has given Marrone and the Orange a chance to experience a world they've never been a part of before, much like the basketball team did a few years ago in the preseason.
Marrone said he's been amazed at the structure of Fort Drum and the way it functions. He met soldiers the same age as his players who have left their jobs and their lives at home because of their desire to serve their country.
On Sunday, the players return to Syracuse to finish training camp before the season opener against Northwestern at home on Sept. 1. But they'll leave Fort Drum with a whole new outlook on the military, and a new appreciation for the importance of teamwork.
''You never know if you can get this experience again, and for us to have this, this is good,'' Gulley said. ''And it allows us to see the life they're living and give them a taste of how we're living, too. It's a big thing for us.''