Just five days separated the Owls from the beginning of spring practice, but there wasn’t a football in sight.
On March 19, players woke up before sunrise and headed to the sports complex at Geasey Field to compete in the ranger scout challenge – a vigorous mental and physical workout put together by the Temple Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The event was part of the football program’s “Team Commitment Week,” which coach Matt Rhule brought back this year as an adaptation of a similar concept former coach Al Golden used during his tenure at Temple.
The players were divided into 10 teams last week, and each one was awarded points for completing an activity assigned by Rhule. Some, like the ROTC event and a dunk contest at McGonigle Hall, were physically based. But the players were also offered rewards for visiting professors during office hours, taking selfies with the newly dedicated statues of John Chaney or Harry Litwack and even for donning a pair of high heels to support the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes foundation – the international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence.
“They’re learning accountability and they’re learning teamwork and they’re learning how to lead,” Rhule said. “And to have this day with the ROTC is really the icing on the cake.”
The partnership between the Owls and the ROTC began when Director of Football Operations Sean Padden approached Lt. Col. Gregory Nardi and the ROTC about putting together a program that would develop the football team’s leadership skills.
Nardi said the team came well prepared.
“Temple football has many of the same values – the work ethic, the ability to work hard under stress, the ability to motivate one another and find a leadership from within the ranks no matter who you are on the team,” Nardi said. “Whether you’re the most junior guy or the most senior guy, there’s a lot of commonality there.”
Among the exercises the players participated in were a 15-seat van push in the Liacouras Center’s garage, carrying teammates across the football field, navigating a stretcher with six blindfolded people, along with sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups. The favorite station among many of the Owls was the rifle shooting.
Rhule said the team will continue working with the ROTC in years to come.
“They’re doing a lot of things and they’re not even realizing they’re working,” Rhule said. “I think to be around other guys on our campus, other students, that belong to a different team – the ROTC team, the U.S. Army team – it allows us to branch out and meet new people and really grow, not just as a football team but as people.”
During the ROTC challenge, “Team Shake ‘n’ Bake” was victorious, scoring 20 points. Led by junior center Kyle Friend, the group scored more than double the amount of any other team that completed the challenge.
“We had no idea what we were going to be doing today,” Friend said. “To do all the different things, from the mental aspect to the physical aspect, it was great to work with those guys and see what they do. We see them around. Both groups are up early in the morning, we see each other walking.”
“Now we know what they’re going to do and now they know what we’re going to do,” Friend added. “So it was a great opportunity for us as well as them and I think the groups are a lot closer now.”
After “Team Commitment Week,” the Owls begin their spring practices this week in Camden, N.J., as Chodoff Field continues being resurfaced before training camp. At the end of the ROTC event, Rhule borrowed a phrase from one of the cadets while speaking to his players about the opponents they will face this season: “Put your boot in their throat.”
“I’m excited,” Rhule said. “We’ve had a lot of growth, a lot of guys who’ve gotten bigger and faster and stronger. Now it’s time to go put it on the field and see how it goes from there.”
“The strides I think we made this offseason and everything, I’m really excited to get back on the field with this group of guys and try to keep betting better and better because I want to be a conference champion,” Friend said.
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.