COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. - Do you think of yourself as tough? As self-sufficient? Well has Air Force Academy football coach Troy Calhoun got a story for you.
Calhoun spoke to the Patriots earlier this week as the team trains at high altitude in Colorado Springs preparing for Sunday’s game in Mexico City against the Raiders. Calhoun's players have to check a lot more boxes than running a good 40-yard dash and completing a certain number of reps on the bench press.
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“He told us a story about them going into the mountains and living for like two or three weeks,” said a wide-eyed Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
As part of their curriculum, students at the Air Force Academy must take survival training. So, not only do they get dropped in the middle of nowhere with no shelter but also have to hunt for their own meals. Ah fellas, do you think you could handle that?
“This is obviously not for me,” said Duron Harmon before laughter overtook him.
“I don’t know if it works for me either,” added James White, shaking his head.
Gilmore continued to be amazed at what he heard, even days later, “They got to kill stuff and eat it. I don’t know if I could that. I don’t know where I’d sleep. I don’t know what I’d kill. That’s a hard situation.”
Only Rob Gronkowski appeared ready to accept the challenge. Do you think you could live in the mountains and kill animals to survive?
“If I had to, I would have to.”
Ok, but what animals would you hunt?
“I like animals, so I don't know.”
I’m not sure that bears want to be scratched behind the ear, Gronk. Call me crazy. Anyway...
Calhoun spoke to the team at the behest of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. We know about Belichick’s love for the service academies and one of the points behind Calhoun's speech was to give his players a much greater understanding of just how difficult life can be for this select group of student-athletes.
“It was a super-strong message,” acknowledged Gronkowski. “Knowing what they go through, it just shows how strong they are and shows what type of person it takes to be able to make it here in the Air Force Academy, which takes a lot – a lot of dedication for sure.
“There’s only a certain type of guys that they recruit and you have to be a certain type of person to do what they do, “ said Gilmore. “You’ve got to respect them for what they do.”
Said Harmon: “All those guys go out there and play football but we don’t see their basic training they have to do when they first come in, the survival training and still going to all these classes, still playing football. You just have a real respect for them because those are the guys that are going to be protecting us, keeping the country safe.”
That resonated among the players, who understand while what they do is important to a lot of people, and they can impact the happiness of an entire region, it’s just a game, not life and death like the men and women who go to the Academy and know they could find themselves at war one day.
“It makes you appreciate what you have for sure,” said Gronkowski, while Gilmore added, “anytime I think I’m going through something, I need to appreciate it looking at their situation and not complaining, just doing what needs to be done.”
When Belichick reads that, he’ll smile. That’s part of what the coach always wants from his players and coaches - just do what needs to be done. Perhaps hearing it from someone else - Coach Calhoun - will keep the message fresh as the Patriots press on through the second half the season and what they hope will be a long postseason run as well.