STARKE, Fla. – The Jacksonville football team returned from Camp Blanding Monday with a newer sense of unity and motivation that has laid the foundation for Head Coach Ian Shields' first Dolphin training camp.
"The coaches have asked me to help get everybody on board and be a leader," said redshirt-senior linebacker Justin Horton. "Camp Blanding went really well. It's naturally fallen on our senior class to be leaders because everyone new is looking at us. It's fun and I had a great time."
"I gained a greater respect for the military, especially being in the barracks. I understand how rough it is trying to go to sleep with 50 other people. My mother's brother was a Marine, my grandfather was in the Army, and my father's brother was in the Air Force. Being here had some sentimental value," said Horton.
Following another padded practice on Sunday, the Dolphins continued their team building exercises and were privileged to have a special guest join them that night.
Franklin L. "Buster" Hagenbeck, a retired United States Army Lieutenant General and recently named director of the Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Florida, spoke to the team Sunday night.
A highly decorated officer, Hagenbeck previously served as the 57th Superintendent at West Point, his alma mater. Throughout his illustrious career in the Army, Hagenbeck served as the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for personnel and was the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division following the attacks of September 11, and led its deployment to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Hagenbeck is the recipient of several awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star.
— #FearTheFin (@JU_Football) August 15, 2016
— Ian Shields (@coachshields) August 15, 2016
Jacksonville continued its preseason training camp at Camp Blanding, located an hour southwest of the River City, with an impactful Saturday. The Dolphins added shoulder pads for the first time which led to a more physical practice.
The veteran Dolphins have continued to notice Camp Blanding's impact on team cohesion and growth.
At night, Jacksonville heard from Lee Rubin, a former Penn State football student-athlete, who told the team that "passion drives you to action", and shared his 5 C's to success. The speech gave extra motivation to the Dolphins and gave them an added enthusiasm heading into Sunday's schedule.
The Dolphins took to the parade field early Friday morning at Camp Blanding to begin day two of practices. Donning helmets, jerseys, and shorts again, the Dolphins increased their practice tempo and Head Coach Ian Shields continued to be pleased with his team's efforts.
"We're off to a good start," said Shields. "This experience is making our team better. Our veteran players know why we are here and why we are doing this. They're working hard. We have some rising senior and juniors who are stepping into leadership roles. "
Following practice, Keith Oliver and Tony Torres of Soldiers Magazine interviewed Shields, assistant coach Trent Steelman, and a trio of Dolphins who each have family military ties. The story on Jacksonville football will be published this fall.
A good lunch and rest time in the barracks helped the Dolphins regain their energy. After meetings and before dinner, the team divided into groups and participated in problem-solving challenges. The tasks ranged from navigating a blindfolded teammate through a maze without using words, to a seated group carrying a teammate overhead in a square pattern.
The Dolphins were grateful to end the day with a speech from Lieutenant Colonel Grey Johnson from Camp Blanding. Johnson, who was deployed twice for Operation Freedom and earned a Bronze Star, spoke to the team about Army values.
A hot morning practice produced plenty of sweat but lunch on the way means all �� pic.twitter.com/NVImpSnKpH— #FearTheFin (@JU_Football) August 12, 2016
Day one of Jacksonville football's expedition to Camp Blanding was a success in laying the foundation for Head Coach Ian Shield's goal of training and bonding his team for the upcoming season.
The Dolphins arrived early in the afternoon and checked into Camp Blanding, located about an hour southwest of Jacksonville's campus. The Dolphins then took quickly to the field, where Shields and his staff introduced the newcomers to a Dolphin practice schedule. A brief, light rain cooled afternoon practice temperatures.
Following the first practice, conducted in helmets, jerseys, and shorts, the players, coaches, and training staff enjoyed a hearty dinner. Later that evening, school president Tim Cost and athletic director Alex Ricker-Gilbert addressed the team. Gilbert spoke first and relayed his message on continuing to keep the sense of family that permeates Dolphin athletics. Cost gave detailed descriptions and examples of the importance of culture on Jacksonville's campus and the impact the football team can have on it.
For senior running back Ulysses Bryant, the first day was not only beneficial for practicing, but improving leadership qualities.
"I need to lead by example and help get the younger guys on board," said Bryant. "Being at Camp Blanding, I've wanted to work even harder. I realize there are people here who have fought for our country overseas. It opens your eyes, humbles you, and makes you come out here a little harder. I can see our team becoming more cohesive from being here."
Lucky that's just a dummy right now— #FearTheFin (@JU_Football) August 11, 2016
�� working fast on first day of camp at Camp Blanding pic.twitter.com/hB9X3Rzcg4