SEC football players visit Fort Jackson for rigorous boot camp

By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 26, 2016

Players from one of college football’s most competitive conferences took a break from tough preseason drills and got a taste of even tougher Army training during a crash course in leadership and teamwork at Fort Jackson, S.C.

The University of South Carolina Gamecocks spent a long, sweltering June day at the base's U.S. Army Training Center, where they were put through a rigorous boot camp that included a late-night live-fire exercise that simulated battlefield conditions.

“You guys represent this university, you represent this city, you represent this state,” Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, Fort Jackson’s commanding general, told the student-athletes before they boarded buses to the base from their stadium in Columbia, S.C. “This is your season. This is your victory. It starts now.”

The day was filmed for a recently-aired episode of “Gamecock Confidential: Forever to Thee,” a web-video series that’s following the team through its opener against Vanderbilt on Sept. 1. South Carolina — picked by many analysts to finish near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division — is attempting to bounce back from a 3-9 season that saw legendary head coach Steve Spurrier throw in the towel last October.

“In the face of adversity, you find out a lot about somebody, and there was a lot of adversity,” new head coach Will Muschamp says in the video. “It was very hot. It wasn’t a very comfortable situation to be in, and to see our guys persevere through that and have some emotion and have some enthusiasm about it and to pull together, there’s not a price for that – to be able to build that within your unit.”

The day began with the intimidating and stressful “shark attack,” where shouting drill sergeants “establish authority, teach timely obedience, structure and show [recruits] that there will be consequences if they do not work together and rely on each other as a member of a team,” an Army statement said.

The players — wearing sandbag-filled assault packs and shirts emblazoned with Fort Jackson’s motto, “Victory Starts Here” — then took on the “fit to win” endurance course, where they jumped over walls, crawled through culverts, climbed cargo nets and crawled under barbed wire while carrying full ammo cans, 5-gallon water containers and a weighted mannequin on a stretcher.

After running a quarter of a mile, they moved on to the confidence course and executed one lane of obstacles and the first three walls of the five-wall course, said Christopher Fletcher, Fort Jackson’s command information officer.

“I like what I’m seeing,” the video shows Cloutier saying of the players’ performance. “I’m seeing some leaders. I’m seeing some folks who are about helping the team.”

The training wrapped up with the night-infiltration course, where the student-athletes crawled about 100 meters with 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Division soldiers while live rounds were fired over their heads.

“There was no dialing down for the USC athletes,” Fletcher said in an email to Stars and Stripes. “They went through the exact training regimen our soldiers did.”

At day’s end, Cloutier complimented the Gamecocks’ performance and left them with some motivation and advice for the upcoming season.

“We’re proud of you guys,” he says in the video. “We’re proud of what you represent. And the same type of attitude that it takes to be a great soldier it takes to be a great player. Remember, it’s never about yourself, it’s always about the team. The team is the most important thing.”

The scenes touched an emotional chord for some veterans and servicemembers, including those who cheer against the Gamecocks.

“I get chills watching this video,” said Julius Bryant Jr., a Facebook commenter who identified himself as a Georgia Bulldog fan and a former Army drill sergeant. “Good luck to the young men of the Gamecocks and may this experience last with you forever.”

Twitter: @kiddaaron

University of South Carolina football players line up for inspection before taking part in a daylong bootcamp at Fort Jackson's U.S. Army Training Center in South Carolina, June 10, 2016. Shouting drill sergeants put them through rigorous training that included a live-fire exercise simulating battlefield conditions.

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