7:45 a.m. – After what felt like one of the longest days in recent memory, most of the team and staff was awake bright and early, ready to get back into the Mexican heat. It has been a while since I woke up at 7:00 a.m. and didn’t need to put a fleece or sweatshirt on. Most of the guys ate breakfast at one of the resort’s restaurants then were back on the beach. I think Brad Kluver woke up just to walk down and sleep on the one beach.
Coach Haugen and senior captains Elliot Herdina, Brad Kruckeburg, Logan Becker, Todd Kremmin, and Dan Optiz are scheduled to have a press conference at Hooters at 11:00 a.m., then it is off to the practice facility for the coaching clinic and youth camp.
11:25 a.m. – Haugen, the captains and I took a short van ride to Hooters to take part in the pre-Caribbean Bowl press conference. Neither coach Haugen nor I quite knew what to expect from the presser considering it was our first of an international flavor. Upon arrival at the restaurant, the Lagartos coaching staff and members of their cheer squad greeted us with open arms and smiling faces. Everywhere we go on this trip there has been huge welcoming party. Sorry Georgia, but Cancun has showed us some special “southern hospitality” thus far.
After introducing ourselves to the members of the media and press that were there covering the event, coach Haugen and members of the Lagartos organization held the first press conference. Roughly 20 members of the press turned out, which was great to see considering soccer reigns supreme in Mexico.
The members of the Lagartos made it very apparent how excited they were to have an opportunity to play an American football team. Coach Haugen shared the same feeling, stating “We are just so grateful that the Lagartos organization gave us an opportunity to travel to Mexico and take part in a fun, yet competitive, football game. The city and government have really come together to make this a reality and our guys couldn’t be more appreciative.”
Members of the media asked questions of all members of both organizations. One that stands out in my mind was directed at coach Haugen. Haugen was asked how he selects captains and what the criteria is for being on the leadership council. I think we take aspects of sport, like selecting team captains, for granted sometimes in the States. When the question was asked, I could tell that all of the reporters were genuinely interested in what the answer would be. Haugen explained that team captains display leadership and care for their teammates both on and off the field, and that they are selected through a vote by the team. The coaches then approve the vote, bestowing on the five men that earn the right to have a “C” next to their name.
After the staff press conference concluded, it was time for the players to up in front of the media. Most noticeably nervous was defensive lineman Todd Kremmin. The guys were joined by two members of the Lagartos squad, and all of them did a fantastic job answering questions and talking about the game, despite the language barrier. There wasn’t the same tension or intensity at this one as there was at the Ivan Drago vs. Rocky press conference, but it was still great to see the two teams together.
Once the questions were answered, we stayed around to take some pictures and chat with everyone in the restaurant. It was quite a different protocal than the press conferences I am used to because when it was over, there was no rush for the door, no mad dash to their laptops. Instead, the media and others stuck around to talk and eat some wings. Being on Mexican time for just over a day really makes us stop and take everything in while we are here.
We were able to find at least one big-time American football fan in the group. One of Caribbean Bowl organizers had a brother that was a field goal kicker for Louisiana State University. Elliot Herdina’s eyes lit up when he told us that he kicked in the Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange Bowl. Maybe one of those games was against Herdina’s beloved USC Trojans.
1:40 p.m. - We arrived back at the hotel with an hour to kill before taking off for the practice facility. The guys can already sense that it is going to be a sweaty one, but Head Athletic Trainer Troy Banse reassured everyone that there were two gallons of water per person at the field.
3:35 p.m. - The team arrived at the practice field on time and ready to go. The field itself was grass, but mostly it was dirt. The usual pre-practice nonsense commenced for roughly 30 minutes before the coaching clinic began.
A little after 4:00 p.m. the guys suited up in their shells (shoulder pads and helmets) and got into warm-up formation. I cringed a little bit watching Marty Schmitz put his pads on over his sunburn. Upon further review, he got it the worst after day one.
I was fortunate enough to get to speak personally with Peter Nyhus at the field during practice. Honestly, I could have talked to him about Gustavus football for two hours. One of the perks of playing for a program like Gustavus is your connection to people like Peter. I love listening to old football stories, and with him, it was like a history lesson on the who’s who of Gustie Athletics. Names like Lee Krough, Don Roberts, Moose Malmquist, and Jocko Nelson were brought up in our conversion. Names like these are etched in Gustavus lore, and to meet and talk with a Gustie from their era is truly special.
The team was put through a normal training camp style practice, one that involved time periods of individual position group and team drills. The one-on-one portion of the practice was cut short, so there are no big hits or big catches to report. Area football coaches and players were moving from station to station, taking in the various schemes and techniques Gustavus uses. Since there is a language barrier, our coaches tried to use step-by-step instructions as much as possible during the process.
5:40 p.m. – Once the coaching clinic ended, it was time for the kids to play some football. Players from elementary school to junior high lined up with the Gustie players to take part in active warm-up, and the practice was underway on the whistle. Pictures will explain the clinic more clearly than I ever can in words, so please look through the photo gallery at the bottom of the page.
The campers were divided into position groups after the warm-up, and the coaches and players were in charge of running drills and teaching techniques. I didn’t see one player without a smile on his face during the session, even the little running back who knocked the wind out of himself after coming up with a diving grab got up with smirk. He may have been displaying a little showmanship for the girls on the sidelines though, perhaps taking notes while watching Ocho Cinco play.
Once the camp concluded, both teams capped it off with their respective rousers and the guys stayed around to talk with some of the campers and take pictures with some of the players. Brad Kruckeberg is going to have to wear sunglasses for the remainder of the trip after burning his eyes with all the camera flashes. His long blonde hair seemed to be a huge hit with the girls at the facility – channeling Tom Brady are we Brad?
In all seriousness, the Gusties players stepped up to the challenge of teaching/coaching and were true role models for the campers. Sometimes it is not about teaching techniques and skills so much as it is about encouragement and getting the young guys pumped up. Just like the Special Olympics, its not how fast or how far someone goes, more importantly it is about being there for support and encouragement. The players quickly saw that a simple tap on the helmet and a “muy bien!” would go a long way with the young guys.
“It was a great day. It was so much fun to see our players and staff working with the young Lagartos,” said Haugen. “In working with the coaching clinic the one thing I see is how eager their coaches are to learn and take in knowledge. We all have a lot to learn, but they were very receptive and thankful for all the work we were doing for them.”
7:36 p.m. – Back at our hotel, the first thing to do was shower. Everyone’s legs were covered with a layer of back dirt and sweat having been on the field for over four hours. A very successful day that could not have gone any smoother.
The guys are off for the rest of the night. They report back together at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon for a trip to an orphanage named Casa Hogar Esperanza.
Even though we are disconnected from the happenings of the outside world, news still seems to travel fast when it involves Gustavus. The team and I would like to congratulate Tim Kennedy on his recent acceptance of the Assistant Vice President and Director of Multimedia Innovation position at Gustavus. TK will always be an SID at heart and I am truly fortunate to serve under him the past two years. A special Gustie Rouser goes out to Tim tonight.