Seventy-six Gonzaga football players travelled to southern Maryland last week for a six-day summer camp. They had left school as individuals, but returned as a team.
With its spartan accomodations and out of the way location, Camp Brown in Scotland, Md., is a football coach's dream.
"We like to call it rustic," said Gonzaga Coach Mark Gowin, who first took the Eagles to camp six years ago. "There aren't many distractions here and that's part of its charm. We're here to concentrate on football and it's not easy to do much else.
The chemistry that gives a team a winning attitude is hard to break down, but Gowin and many of his players believe that going to camp has been the catalyst for Gonzaga's recent success.
The two-hour drive brings the players to a place where they are, for a little while, all alike. At home, of course, some are used to mansions while others live in public housing. Camp thus becomes a great equalizer.
"It's place where you get to know everybody real well," said tailback Marcus Cherry. "Living together breaks down any possible barrier. You find out very quickly what everyone's like and how they think. Camp affords you, maybe forces you, to become better friends with your teammates."
Psychology aside, the camp's schedule is challenging.
The day began with a 6:30 wakeup call and a 15-minute stretching period before breakfast. Taping began at 8:45 a.m. and morning practice (in full pads) began at 9:30 a.m. and lasted for two hours. Lunch was at noon and was sometimes followed by a 1 o'clock team meeting, but the players were usually shooed back to their cabins to rest before a 3:30 p.m. practice in helmet, shoulder pads and shorts. Dinner, like the rest of the meals, was prepared by a cadre of volunteer fathers. It began at 6:30 and more than made up in quantity whatever it lacked in taste.
There was a final team meeting each night at 8 and a snack before lights out at 9:30.
"There was also a swimming pool that the players could use whenever they were free," said Gowin. "We even had a skit competition between the seniors and the underclassmen on the last night.
"Each night the seniors would make some of the underclassmen sing at dinner," said defensive end Karl Gannon. "They usually sang something simple like 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat,' but everyone, even the underclassmen who had to sing, thought it was hilarious.
"Players live four to a cabin and there were 19 cabins, so we rotated chores like setting up for meals, clearing tables and even latrine duty," said Gowin. "We made sure that there was at least one senior per cabin and tried to break up the classes as much as possible. We even took the junior varsity this year."
The camp cost each player $60, but may pay dividends, possibly even in the form of Gonzaga's first league championship since 1960.
"We had a real good camp this year," said Cherry. "Last year we were bigger and probably more talented, but we didn't always play up to our potential. We talked about that at camp. I don't think that'll happen again this year.
With a tiny offensive line, the Eagles can be optimistic, but not overly so.
"We haven't played a game yet, so we don't really know how good we are or can be," said Gannon, co-captain along with Cherry. "But we know that whatever happens, we're going to do it together. Going to camp togther helped see to that."