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Just a Day at the Beach : Cal Lutheran Football Team Launches Training Camp in Highly Unusual Surroundings

August 29, 1996|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CORONADO, Calif. — Rarely is there a novel spin put on football, a sport almost boastful of its Neanderthal mentality. Well, score a quick six for oddity and ingenuity at Cal Lutheran.

The first clue that something drastically different is going on under 31-year-old, first-year Coach Scott Squires--Two players were injured Wednesday during the team's first workout--Jason Cowles was bitten by a sting ray and defensive back Kevin Lyon was bitten by a sand crab.

Squires' inaugural practice was nowhere near Cal Lutheran. And the drills were straight out of a company picnic.

The Kingsmen played leapfrog and tug-of-war. They did cartwheels, had wheelbarrow races and rode one another piggyback. They played softball in the ocean and shot hoops in a gym.

They spun in circles and raced dizzily, howling like adolescents. The only time they threw a football, they did so blind-folded.

Eight hours of fun in the sun, and the wet, sand-covered players repaired to posh barracks at the Naval Amphibious Base to work up goofy skits and song and dance routines that were performed after dinner.

What's this all about? Engaging in little boys' games to prepare for a decidedly big boys' game would seem a recipe for a 0-10 season.

"We are building team unity before we begin football practice," Squires said. "Usually, it works the other way around."

The team will remain on the base until Saturday, although today the Kingsmen get down to the nuts and bolts of blocks and tackles, Xs and Os, down-and-outs and the rest of conventional practice.

The offbeat antics and unpredictable nature of Wednesday's drills won't be forgotten, however. The tension common between seniors and underclassmen, and between offensive and defensive players, has been muzzled.

"Every other year I've played no one knows each other until well into the season," said M.J. Cantero, a senior offensive lineman and team leader. "With transfers and freshmen, a lot of guys are only competing for jobs, not building relationships.

"Sometimes there is friction. This experience is breaking down those walls."

The idea of leaving campus to begin practice came from Squires' playing career at Pacific Lutheran, where he was a linebacker on the school's NAIA national championship team in 1987. Pacific Lutheran opens camp every year on an Oregon beach.

His preferred term for the four-day stay at the base is a "breakaway."

"We don't call it a retreat because that's a negative word," he said.

The Naval connection is Squires' older brother, Steve, a commander who lives on the base.

Once permission was secured, Squires had to sell the concept to his staff of eight assistants, four of whom are holdovers from Joe Harper's six-year tenure that ended with last season's 4-4-2 record.

"We're mostly new coaches putting in a new system, so there was concern about devoting time to this," said Jud Keim, a first-year assistant who was Squires' teammate at Pacific Lutheran. "We had to sell it to the staff. We think we have time to get everything in."

*

Cal Lutheran doesn't play until Sept. 14 at the University of San Diego. The Kingsmen will bunk at the base the night before the game.

If it is anything like this stay, they will be motivated. The team was greeted Tuesday evening by an orientation from two military policemen who screamed at the players in typical military fashion, telling them that if they were caught misbehaving on the base, "We'll take you down!"

Voila! A rallying cry the Kingsmen will carry throughout the season was born.

Bunk assignments brought more surprises--and broke down more walls.

"I've never heard of a quarterback bunking with a defensive lineman," said Zack Hernandez, a sophomore quarterback whose bunkmate is Damon Barnett, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound transfer defensive end.

A night's sleep in spotless, surprisingly comfortable barracks gave way to the most unique first day of practice in memory.

First stop was the gym where a makeshift basketball game combined an aerobic workout with football-style roughhousing. One burly lineman barreled into a teammate trying to take a shot, causing gasps from some but this comment from an assistant coach: "You love to see that in one of your linemen."

The day's only drill on a grass field came next. Players placed their foreheads on the end of a baseball bat standing upright from the ground and were spun around a dozen times before running 20 yards to a cone.

They wobbled, stumbled and fell while teammates laughed hysterically.

Next was lunch, and any stereotypes about inedible food in the mess hall were quickly debunked. The team feasted on crab legs and steak smothered in mushrooms, sitting alongside sailors, SEALS and civilian employees of the Naval base.

Preparation for afternoon practice involved draping towels over their shoulders and walking to the beach. They players built human pyramids at the shoreline and between drills dove into the water to cool off.

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