Determined to escape the distractions of Philadelphia, the Temple football team traveled two hours and 110 miles on I-95 to SUNY Maritime College in New York City’s Bronx borough.
There, the Owls will work on the field and in the weight room to prepare for a bounce-back season. Despite being away from their home base on 10th and Diamond, coach Rod Carey and the Owls are homing in on football while also opening up to one another off the field.
“The first thing is bonding,” Carey said. “Take everyone out of their element and get us together alone.”
Temple didn’t play a game until Oct. 10 last season, after training camp practices that fluctuated from day to day based on COVID-19 guidelines. The Owls also had to follow Philadelphia’s guidelines on capacity, which led them to work in small groups rather than all together.
The pandemic could have been a factor in the Owls’ lack of chemistry or it could have been the transfers and freshmen joining the program. Either way, Carey is not wasting any time. The day after the team arrived at SUNY’s campus, he took practice to the beach at the East River.
The Owls, dressed in shorts, T-shirts, and life vests, sprinted and army-crawled in and out of the water. Even after going through several drills, Temple lined up in groups with a paddle and raft to row out in the river.
Last Sunday, Temple continued its team bonding and visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum located at the site of the World Trade Center. Players had the opportunity to observe and learn personal stories of those who died in the 2001 attack.
Carey described the day as emotional and unbelievable. Although many players were infants when 9/11 occurred, Carey noticed how impactful the visit was when they asked questions and expressed their feelings about the tragedy to the coaching staff. It was an opportunity for Temple to learn as a family.
“We got a chance to bond with something other than football, which was really good for this group and for us,” Carey said. “It’s a piece of our country’s history and tools we can use going forward, too.”
Carey believes the Owls can build culture by overcoming physical and mental barriers together beforestepping onto the football field.
Redshirt junior receiver Jadan Blue compared training camp to his experience at high school football sleep-away camp, where the guys had no phones, no television, and were completely focused on football.
“I want my video games, but it is what it is. You don’t have that anymore. All you get to see is football and your coaches,” Blue said. “It really builds team camaraderie around everybody that’s regarding this football team.”
The Owls are staying in campus dorms, which the upperclassmen are accustomed to since many live on Temple’s campus. But it was still an adjustment for the Owls, especially for the coaches, who would usually go home to their families after a day of camp.
“For the players, I think our guys were excited about it at first and then maybe a little hesitant getting up here,” safeties coach Tyler Yelk said. “Now I think they definitely realize that it’s a pretty neat experience.”
Yelk, who moved in 2020 from defensive analyst to safeties coach, said he wanted to set an example for the entire team to embrace their experiences away from home.
“They’re stuck here, you’re stuck here with each other. We got to spend time with one another in and outside football,” Yelk said. “I think that really benefits us, especially being on an urban campus.”
Graduate safety Amir Tyler found himself becoming closer with the new coaches who were brought on this season, something the sixth-year player never had the chance to do.
“This is a time where you could focus on any of the miscorrections that we missed,” Tyler said, “or you could focus on team bonding as well to bring the team together.”
Besides spending practice together, the Owls have all their meals and nights together. During that time, they talk about sports: Is Tom Brady the real GOAT? Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan? But there are deeper conversations.
Redshirt junior linebacker Audley Isaacs said Owls players have noticed a level of engagement in conversation off the field they normally don’t see during training camp.
“It’s nothing football-related,” Isaacs said. “I’m seeing conversations about life.
“Whether it be anything that someone has personally been through or something that the older guys are sharing with you to prepare for in competitions, this is needed across the team because as much as we’re here to play football, we’re also going to grow together.”
Isaacs explained an instance where he spoke with a few freshmen about starting and playing time, but he related it to life, about maturing as a man, and growing into one’s position.
“I remember looking back on freshman year, I couldn’t tell anybody about anything,” Isaacs said. “But seeing them talking about stuff on the field — it’s the stuff I learned on the field that helped me with my personal life and family, with anything that comes up [whether] that be deep relationships or friendships. Things I learned playing this game have transferred over.”