Navy SEAL Leadership Training

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

They met at midnight. Sleepily gathered in a group inside the John McKay Center with nothing but a water bottle and sweatshirt in hand, 16 USC football players awaited the unknown. Several minutes later, two vans arrived and the 16 players plus their coaches and several staff members crammed in and set off on the road. It was around 1 a.m. on Friday morning and the 2014 USC Football Leadership Training had begun.

To their credit, the coaches didn't know where they were going either. Head coach Steve Sarkisian had organized for two Navy SEALs to lead the team in a day of exercises but even he wasn't given an agenda, or a warning about a midnight start time. The assembled team was made up of Buck Allen, Cody Kessler, Antwaun Woods, Nelson Agholor, Josh Shaw, Leonard Williams, Chad Wheeler, Max Tuerk, Leon McQuay III, Anthony Sarao, Randall Telfer, Tre Madden, Max Browne, J.R. Tavai, Hayes Pullard and Scott Felix (formerly Starr).

Thumbnail image for DL.jpegThe vans drove east and after three and a half hours finally unloaded in Joshua Tree National Park. It was dark and the players were hungry, but it was just the beginning of what each of them described as the hardest day of training they had ever endured. Over the next 24 hours, the Trojans completed a variety of physical and mental challenges; somewhat of an 'Amazing Race' - Navy SEAL edition. Broken into teams made up of both coaches and players, the challengers spent the day in the desert tracking down hidden capsules containing the descriptions of different activities. These tasks ranged from crawling through the tunnels of rock formations to carrying tires up mountains to solving mental puzzles in a time crunch.

"It was the toughest thing I've ever done," said senior defensive back Josh Shaw. "Climbing that mountain, it seemed like every time you thought you were getting to the top you had to keep on going. Talk about exhausted, I was exhausted. Coming out of it brought us so much closer. Physically we are all drained so you learn you have to pull through mentally. You look across from you and you see your brothers and you don't want to quit on any of them. It was a great experience."

Whether it was learning that it's burdensome to carry a teammates baggage or understanding the meaning of sacrifice or simply pushing each other along when their bodies screamed for them to quit, the day was about much more than redefining their physical limit. Every exercise had a purpose, and every exercise revealed something about the characteristics of this year's team.

agholorkessler.png"We went with a lot of leaders but it was cool to see guys leading and also listening to each other," explained junior All-American Leonard Williams. "It's good to know that we have players who can lead and follow at the same time. That's something we need. We know that we have players and coaches who can fight through anything. We've been grinding all summer and to accomplish that together was amazing."

The day was about coming together as a group of leaders, on the eve of Fall Camp, in the dawning of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC. As the group summitted Mt. Ryan (elevation 5,457 feet) at sunset on Friday, the day was finally ending, but a new chapter of Trojan football was just beginning.

"I enjoyed it. But it was hard. It's something I never expected and never thought I could make it through," said Randall Telfer. "But once we finished, not only did we feel relieved, but we felt like we were capable of accomplishing anything. We hiked to the top of a mountain, carrying logs, carrying tires. It was hard for us, and at points I think we all wanted to quit, but getting to the top was a testament to what this team can go through."

The Trojans are still a few weeks from the start of the 2014 season and much remains to be learned about this team, but senior linebacker Hayes Pullard said last week's leadership training confirmed perhaps the most important thing.

"It proved to me that this is not a tap out team," Pullard said. "We Fight On."

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