Marines Senior Leadership Camp offers unique training for area high school football players
The morning sun peeks over the horizon creating a silhouette of eight groggy Freeport football players rope-burning their way forward.
They drag 10,000-plus pounds of military Humvee behind them on the hot pavement of their high school parking lot.
The wheels on the vehicle are round but seem square and defiant to move on this hazy day. Yet somehow they move. It moves. An impossible tug-of-war turns one-sided.
“It took everyone motivating each other,” Freeport rising senior wide receiver and defensive back Josh Brestensky said. “Even if we had 15 guys on the rope, it would be tough. If one guy, especially on the front or back, didn't try, it didn't work.”
And so goes the idea of the Marines Senior Leadership Camp, a boot-camp style event that blends a lesser version of military training with football workouts.
The non-contact event returns this week with more venues and participants.
In addition to Freeport, Deer Lakes, Highlands, Springdale and Valley each will run through drills while under the supervision of Marines for a day at their practice fields during the next few weeks.
Other camp locations are Butler County Community College, which will host Seneca Valley, Knoch and Slippery Rock on July 31 and Aug. 1; and Apollo-Ridge, with guests coming in from Leechburg, Burrell and Kiski Area on July 29 and 30.
“We'll work on circuit training, and the kids will take a combat fitness test,” said Marine Capt. Don Roenigk, a Freeport graduate.
“The Marine Corps prides itself on great community relations, and this is an extension of that. We want the kids to think like Marines do. When they're on the field, they knock each other down, but they're the first to pick their opponents up again.”
Chin-ups and long jogs are among camp activities, but the Humvee pull arguably is the highlight.
“I know for a fact I pushed myself harder because of what I learned from the Marines,” Brestensky said. “We learned that even if you're tired you can pull through it.
“We were doing a push-up drill, and I could feel my body collapsing, but I pushed through.”
The unique team bonding experience also can serve as an ice-breaker for training camps, which open Aug. 12.
Call it a pre-camp lesson in discipline and uniformity.
“The coaches really enjoyed it, too,” Roenigk said. “They liked getting their hands dirty.”
That means Highlands coach Sam Albert will fit right in. Albert, who coached Roenigk when he was at Freeport, is known for wearing combat boots to practice.
“This is right up my alley,” Albert said. “Our Mazur brothers (Zach and Derrick) are (Roenigk's) cousins. They said, ‘Coach, we'd like to try that.' We're excited about it.”
Roenigk said the boot camps are non-profit and serve only to enhance team-building. They are not a recruiting tool.
“That's not our goal,” Roenigk said. “We have other ways to do that.”
Recent Freeport graduate Alec Stivers got something more out of his experience last summer. He enrolled in the Marines and heads to real boot camp in September.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.