FORT DRUM — Syracuse University football coach Scott Shafer knows that it’s easy for players to feel sorry for themselves during two-a-days in preseason training camp.
But when the Orange players sit at a table across from Fort Drum soldiers around their same age and listen to stories about going to war, those extra sprints don’t seem so difficult.
Shafer said the ability for his players to gain that perspective is one of the greatest benefits to SU’s four-day Fort Drum training camp, which started Tuesday morning.
“First and foremost is the chance to put our kids into position to reflect back on themselves and not be selfish. … For our guys to sit across from the troops and understand: ‘Hey, I’m 21 years old and he’s 21 and he’s up in the mountains in Afghanistan putting it on the line for our country so I can go out and play football,’” Shafer said.
The Orange is spending a portion of its preseason training camp on Drum for the third straight year.
The SU players arrived Monday night and will stay until Friday morning. They will be divided into groups of six or seven, and drill sergeants will ensure they get to bed on time and wake up early for breakfast.
The players will spend the week interacting with soldiers and incorporate military training and leadership exercises into their football work.
“We’re just kind of taken back to be quite honest with you, our kids are sitting around listening to what these troops have just gone through and what they prepare for,” Shafer said. “I can’t begin to tell you how important it is for our kids to hear these guys’ stories.”
On Tuesday morning, the players led soldiers through their warm-up routine. Today, the soldiers will lead the SU players through small unit leadership exercises.
Colonal David Coyle — Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, which will be working with the team this week — said the experience is also valuable for his soldiers.
“The dedication the student-athletes have to perform at the highest level is exactly what we’re striving for, we want soldiers to perform at a high level when the pressure is on,” Coyle said. “So when they see these players performing under stress, it’s a great bond for them as well. And, they look up to the players and enjoy being around the players.”
The SU coaches and players will hold an instructional clinic for kids in military families on Thursday, which will be followed by a team scrimmage.
The week will conclude with one final military activity on Friday morning to test the small group leadership skills learned by the players over the course of the camp.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much we appreciate, not only being here, but the camaraderie between the troops and our kids. … I think each year it’s gotten better,” Shafer said.
Shafer said this week and the small unit leadership exercises will be critical toward determining who will be elected team captains.
At the start of training camp last week, Shafer said the team will vote on captains after the Fort Drum training camp.
The votes of coaches and seniors will be worth four points, junior votes will be three points, sophomore votes will be worth two and freshmen votes will be a point.
The Orange open the season against Villanova on Aug. 29 in the Carrier Dome.