Being all they can be

Niles football team develops togetherness at military camp

Special to Tribune Chronicle Members of the Niles football team listen to instructions as they start a recent two-day camp at the Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center.

NILES — Football camps are meant to hone in on the fundamentals.

The Niles McKinley High School football team wanted more. So did first-year coach Jim Parry.

He reached out to United States Army Master Sergeant Scott Fredericks, a Youngstown native and former assistant coach when Parry was at Mathews High School.

The destination: Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center off of Route 5 in Portage County.

The Red Dragons players spent two days in an abbreviated basic training.

Special to Tribune Chronicle Several Red Dragons work on a team-building exercise.

With oversized duffle bags strapped to each player’s shoulders, they initially were checked for contraband — cell phones, which were not allowed in camp.

“I was checking my pockets constantly, thinking I left it somewhere. It was tough,” junior Seth McMillion said.

Squad leaders were assigned and the team walked a mile and a half to camp. There were team-building exercises in a timed setting, then, a review of situations and learning, which these groups did after the third station.

These young men surrendered their own individuality and relied on their teammates. In an eight-mile run, solidarity is needed as is communication.

Morale was shown as teammates wouldn’t let others fail. It’s not a part of this team.

Some of the bigger guys were struggling. Some of the smaller guys picked them up. Morale in that situation really helped them.

“We learned to pick each other up when we we’re down, push people forward, keep moving,” said senior Jason Gibson. “If it weren’t for everybody pushing each other through that eight-mile ruck march, we wouldn’t have got through it. It was everyone leaning on each other, that’s what got us through these two days.”

Even cleaning up the barracks was part of the deal. No one wanted to be the one to let this team fail.

Parry was so surprised he put it on his Facebook account, showing the players’ mothers the impossible dream — a clean sleeping quarters — can be achieved.

“If they didn’t have something to do, they were looking,” Parry said. “They didn’t want to be the guy that was letting the group down. That was an organic result of the thing.”

Midnight wake-up call; it’s fourth-and-3 at the opponent’s 10 with less than 2 minutes remaining. It’s time to react.

“It kind of startled us,” Gibson said. “They said we had 30 seconds to get outside. We didn’t have much to think about. You got up, got out. We didn’t realize what was going to happen. We got out there and had a very good workout.

“It was a great experience.”

Spirits weren’t this high since January. Costs were affordable with the Niles Frontliners and Football Mothers Club helping out with the T-shirts with the theme of the camp — Band of Brothers.

The team returned to Niles with plenty of sleepy players, leaving wondering parents how did they tire out their children. The players were no doubt thinking of the life-changing experience they had — one that has shaped current practices.

“We pick each other up when we’re down,” Gibson said. “We’re a confident football team going forward. People aren’t expecting a lot out of us and we really have that chip on our shoulder.”

It’s about a team unified.

“You can’t point fingers,” McMillion said. “The team has to come together for a common goal. Sometimes you have to sacrifice if that’s what it takes to get the job done.”

Did this experience help a Niles team desperate to develop into a competitive team?

“When you think of your team or your teammate over yourself, that’s when we’ll know you’ll have a true brotherhood there,” Parry said. “If we do, that eventually will lead to wins.”

Then, and only then, the Red Dragons can become that Band of Brothers.