Getting with The Program
Spring practice ended at 5:35 p.m. on Saturday when the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Kay Yow Spring Football game. Less that 48 hours later, however, the Wolfpack squad was back out on the field at Carter-Finley, taking the next step towards accomplishing its goal of winning a championship in 2012.
It wouldn't seem that carrying telephone poles and performing poolside planks would have anything to do with that goal, but Tom O'Brien believes that the first step towards a championship is to develop leaders and to work together as a team. That's why he asked Marine Special Ops officer Major Eric Kapitulik of "The Program" to put the Wolfpack through his "Judgement Day" workout.
"I think that the biggest thing our players take from this is for each man to realize that the guy on his left and the guy on his right is more important than he is," said O'Brien. "To realize that to be successful as individuals, they have to help their teammates be successful."
The mission of The Program, which is taught by former Division I athletes and military special ops personnel, is to force individuals to work together through shared adversity. The group mentors evaluate individual and team leadership development and team cohesiveness.
The Program got underway last night at 8 p.m. on the chilly, damp stadium field. For three hours, the team performed a series of tasks such as sandbag relays, carrying telephone poles, fireman carries for 41-101 yards and even such simple things as jumping jacks and push-ups. The challenge was to perform as a team.
That challenge became more difficult after three hours, when the team was physically and mentally exhausted. "I didn't know what to expect," said sophomore T.Y. McGill. "It was hard, but when we started working together, it got easier."
This morning, the team gathered at 4:30 a.m. at the campus pool. For the first hour, the offense and defense took opposite sides of the pool and while one group swam (or walked for the non-swimmers) across, the other group would perform exercises in cadence: mountain climbs, pushups, jumping jacks, flutter kicks or planks. During this drill, led by Mike Glennon on offense and Dontae Johnson on defense, Kapitulik challenged the players to not only be "thumbs guys" who encourage their teammates, but "fingers guys," who direct them.
Prior to the next segment, Pat Downey, a seven-year NFL vet, spoke to the team. He recounted how in 2002, while he was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, he was awarded a game ball for a big win at New Orleans, even though he was on the practice squad that week and didn't play a down in the game. "It was about knowing my role, accepting my role and carrying it out to the best of my ability," he said.
Around 6 a.m., everybody was told to jump into the deep end of the Carmichael pool. This was the toughest challenge of all, according to senior safety Earl Wolff. "I'm not that good of a swimmer," he said, "so when I heard we were going to be in the deep end, I panicked a little."
Wolff was selected as the leader for the defense, while Asa Watson led the offense. While in 11 feet of water, the players were instructed to take off their sweatshirts, hold them in the air when commanded, pass them to their partners, then put their partner's shirts back on. Not a difficult task while standing on dry land, but a daunting one while treading water or holding on for dear life to the wall of the pool.
Jake MacDonald, a special ops officer, told the defense: "The best way to get over fear is to attack. The second way is to trust in your teammates. Some of you don't need the wall, you want the wall."
The teams went through this drill numerous times, attempting to shave seconds off the time it took to accomplish the feat. Between attempts, they worked on strategy: how it was easier to take the shirt on and off under the water, how the swimmers could help the non-swimmers, how to pass the shirts off to make it easier for their teammates to perform their part. "He told us to develop a good plan and execute if perfectly," said Wolff.
When Kapitulik called the team together at the conclusion of the drills, he called out several players as leaders: McGill, C.J. Wilson, who although he couldn't participate, encouraged his teammates throughout the drills. Rob Crisp, Quintin Payton, Watson, Cam Wentz, Sterling Lucas, Glennon and Andrew Wallace. Then he held up a nondescript gray t-shirt that boasts "The Program's" simple logo: a Spartan shield with the greek letter lambda inside. He described how Spartan warriors would form a line and place their shield to their left or to their right, protecting their fellow warriors and not themselves.
He went on to explain that at the end of each "Program," the group awards one gray t-shirt to the individual who most represents a great teammate. "If we awarded two, Tony Creecy would get one," Kapitulik added. "But the one person who most represented our principals was Earl Wolff."
"We have a lot of individuals on our team," said Wolff, "but everything we did yesterday and today was together. If everybody did it right and one person did it wrong, everybody had to do it all over. I think by the time it was over, everybody knew that it's not about them, it's about the team."