By Master Sgt. Damian Steptore, 10th Mountain Division PAO NCOICDecember 20, 2012
Their 2012 football season started this fall with a weeklong training camp on the grassy, manicured Sligh Field here at Fort Drum on Aug. 12, and now the Syracuse University "Orange" football team will end this year's campaign with their second bowl appearance in eight years and a share of the Big East title. The team will play Dec. 29 in the Pinstripe Bowl, which is set for 3:15 p.m. in Yankee Stadium, against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
The Orange also appeared in the 2010 inaugural Pinstripe Bowl and defeated the Kansas State Wildcats, 36-34. Sporting News predicted Syracuse to finish seventh this year.
"I can't say enough about Doug Marrone and what he's done and what he's meant to this university and this football team," Daryl Gross, SU director of athletics, told reporters Dec. 2 at a news conference in the Manley Field House football wing. "And this is just the tip of the iceberg for him. … He's just getting started."
Marrone and his team started their summer training camp at Fort Drum in a military-style training environment. The goal was to help players further develop their leadership and teamwork skills and prepare for the upcoming football season.
After weeks of preparation and a grueling 12-game season, the Orange will participate in what will be the third NCAA football bowl game in the Bronx since the Gotham Bowl on Dec. 15, 1962, when Nebraska edged Miami (Fla.), 36-34, at the original Yankee Stadium. Syracuse is bowl-eligible for the second time since 2004, when the Orange lost to Georgia Tech, 51-14, during the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
"I think that their experience gave them a drive to achieve something," said Capt. Joseph DeNenno, a member of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. "It gave them a new perspective of life as a team, a unit and a group of men fighting together for something." DeNenno was the officer in charge of facilitating the team's training at Fort Drum.
After arriving on post, players stayed in the barracks and ate their meals in post dining facilities with Soldiers. The next morning, former drill sergeants, then in 3rd Brigade Combat Team, woke the players up to simulate basic training and marched them to breakfast. The team's military-specific training began after the morning's football practice.
"It allowed our men (Soldiers) of Fort Drum to show other men their own age their profession and what they have worked so hard doing for years," DeNenno added. "The level of respect that I ended up seeing in the football players brought a new level of personal respect in my mind for the organization as a whole. I was shocked and impressed with how humble and eager to learn and talk with our Soldiers the football players were."
The players divided their time between discussions and training with 3rd BCT Soldiers, along with intense football practices. Part of the process involved going to the base's Engagement Skills Trainer, along with familiarizing themselves with military weapon systems in virtual combat situations as a "squad."
"It's fun and new and different; it's a good way to give us leadership and prepare us for the season," said Zen Jones, defensive tackle for the Syracuse University football team.
Jones best put his leadership skills to the test when he helped the Syracuse defense withstand a punishing ground attack Sept. 15 to hold off Stony Brook, 28-17. The team was having an up-and-down season to that point, until reeling off three straight wins against Louisville, Missouri and Temple to bring their record to 7 wins and 5 losses, along with a share of the Big East Championship.
In a statement issued by SU, Marrone said that when he heard about the new bowl game planned for Yankee Stadium, he hoped the Orange could be a part of it -- if the team wasn't in a Bowl Championship Series game.
"I was very happy to see them get a bowl game bid," DeNenno said. "I would like to see the relationship between college athletes and Soldiers continue to grow here at Fort Drum."
DeNenno explained that even if the players don't return to Fort Drum next year for training camp, he hopes they will at least come up to learn things and experience life again as a Soldier.
He said he also believes the 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers can learn a lot about the other paths of life they could have taken, or could experience in the future, from the Syracuse players.
"Our players will be able to take away a lot from this," Marrone said during the camp. "I knew it was a great opportunity for our football team to become better. The principles that were taught are the principles that we preached."
Players left Fort Drum with a different perspective of the Army and newfound motivation to practice what their coaches emphasize during practice.
"Everything that we have been saying as coaches is being reinforced by the people that are around them that they have never met before," Marrone said. "There is no better model than the U.S. military when we talk about leadership and teamwork, competitiveness and the will to win."
The SU coach is hoping this model helps his team win the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29.