First-year University of Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill has a team to build. He wants his Golden Gophers to rely on each other, care about the man next to him more than he cares about himself, have a team-first attitude, be mentally tough.
What team fits the above descripton better than the United States Navy SEALs? So, Coach Kill and Director of Player Personnel Adam Clark recruited a pair of gentlemen from the Navy SEALs to speak with the Gophers after Friday night's team meal.
Dave Morrison was a Captain and Mark Courrier was a Special Warfare Operator Master Chief for the SEALS. Both are now based in Norfolk, Va. and are part of the Naval Special Warfare Recruiting Directorate. Clark contacted them, asked them to visit Minnesota and speak to the team. Both had powerful messages.
"I've got one question for you," Morrison asked the team. "What's the most important thing here today? The people that walk in and out of those glass doors every day. It doesn't matter the amount of equipment you have, the amount of practice you do, the amount of things you have, the gear. It doesn't matter.
"If you can't depend on the guy that's sitting or standing right next you on the line, or holding the snap ... if you can't depend on that guy, then you can't call yourselves a team," Morrison continued.
Minnesota native Courrier told the team about his upbringing in Bloomington and how he enrolled in the Navy three days after high school. Courrier showed a video that the Navy and one of his "sons" put together. There is a young man from the inner-city of Minneapolis who set his mind to becoming a Navy SEAL and didn't waver, no matter the hurdles placed in front of him.
The young man couldn't swim and didn't quite have a high enough ASVAB test score, both requirements for the SEAL program. He worked at both for two years and eventually learned to swim well enough and got a qualifying score on his test. Then, he found out he had a heart condition that could keep him out of the SEAL training program. So he had heart surgery. After another year - that's three total - he finally had his shot at the SEAL program. He overcame all that adversity and is now a proud SEAL, serving his country.
"He made it. He did it," Courrier said. "He had a lot of obstacles to overcome. That's commitment. That's drive. That's discipline. That's something. Of course, he had all those other obstacles in his life. So, that's success right there. That's what I see in you guys."
At the end of the presentation, Morrison and Courrier answered questions of the team. While Courrier was answering a question, Morrison slipped out of the room. A few minutes later he came back holding the Navy SEAL t-shirt he was wearing and he was now wearing a SEAL polo shirt. He asked which members of the Gophers wanted to be take the leadership role on the team. Sixth-year senior safety Kim Royston was the first to raise his hand. Morrison tossed his shirt to him.
"That's something I earned," Morrison told Royston. "Now, when you wear it, you wear it with pride."
Royston said it was a huge honor for him.
"I might wear it under my shirt on the way to the game or something," Royston said. "It'll make me feel like a Navy SEAL for a day."
Royston said Morrison's talk about how you can never tell who might make it through the program and become part of the SEAL team was one of the messages that will stick with him.
"He talked about how at the beginning of training, they've had Olympic athletes, Division I athletes and guys who didn't even play sports in high school. You never know who's going to make it through the program, because you can't see what's inside your heart and what's inside your mind. He really talked about how much mental toughness you have and how much discipline you have. They showed us some videos of guys coming together as a team. If you don't have the team concept, you're not going to accomplish anything."
Coach Kill is very proud of his country and makes no apologies for it. In fact, his teams have always had -- and will continue have -- the United States flag with them when they take the field before each game. He was thrilled with the message and to have two people who have served their nation so admirably in front of his team.
"It's a privilege that we had two men who represented our country for many, many years in the Navy SEALS," Kill said. "We kind of targeted who we wanted to come in and speak with our kids. I said I love the Navy SEALs. They're what our country is all about. I wanted to get somebody in here who can tell our team how a team really operates. What better way to do it?"
> The Gophers went through a nearly two-hour morning practice Saturday, with much of the session focusing on special teams and individual drills. The team was outfitted in shells (helmets and shoulder pads).
>Following the lighter workout this morning, the Gophers will be back in full pads and going full-throttle Saturday afternoon. A few segments of practice are slated to include live scrimmage work this afternoon.
>Coach Kill met up with U of M President Eric Kaler and men's head basketball coach Tubby Smith on the Gibson-Nagurski practice field after Saturday morning's workout. The trio was taking part in a video shoot for University Relations.