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updated: 8/31/2012 10:23 AM

Navy SEAL workout gets Libertyville Wildcats in shape

Players say tough workout helped them find strength for comeback victory.

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  • From left, Libertyville's Matsen Dziedzic, Jack Deichl, Justin Jost, Joey Nield log some serious work as part of their Navy SEALs training program.

    From left, Libertyville's Matsen Dziedzic, Jack Deichl, Justin Jost, Joey Nield log some serious work as part of their Navy SEALs training program.
    Photo courtesy Mike Jones

  • Libertyville's football players band together while getting lessons in overcoming adversity in a mid-August visit from the Navy SEALs.

    Libertyville's football players band together while getting lessons in overcoming adversity in a mid-August visit from the Navy SEALs.
    Photo courtesy Mike Jones


They crawled through mud on their bellies.

They pressed and pressed, arms shaking, through hundreds of military-style push-ups.

They raced around the track in teams of six or seven, while balancing 250-pound logs above their shoulders.

And that was all in just one practice for the Libertyville Wildcats.

"There were guys struggling," senior quarterback Jack Deichl said. "I think a lot of guys were questioning how they were going to make it through the day."

But the Wildcats did make it through. They survived their toughest practice ever, run by a few tough-as-nails Navy SEALs, no less. So what was to stop them from doing the same thing -- making it through, surviving -- in the face of a 17-point deficit last Friday at Barrington?

The Wildcats were down 20-3 at halftime in their season opener.

"I think our coaches were just waiting to see if we would use the techniques that the Navy SEALs taught us," senior running back Joey Salata said. "They taught us about pushing through mental barriers and how we could take our bodies to levels we didn't even know were possible once we pushed through those barriers. They showed us that we could do more if we worked together as a team."

With those lessons in mind, the Wildcats stormed out of the locker room and scored 21 second-half points to get a 24-20 victory that left the crowd and their opponents stunned.

"It was familiar for us," Deichl said of the overwhelming sense of adversity that he and his teammates felt at halftime. "We had our backs against the wall against Barrington, just like we had our backs against the wall with the SEALs."

The SEALs came to Libertyville for a super intense four-hour session during training camp in mid-August.

Rob Stella coordinated the visit. He is part of the outreach awareness team for the SEALs, and also a 1991 graduate of Libertyville High School, where he played football for four years as a running back and cornerback.

Known for their rigorous training techniques, the SEALs, based near San Diego, are often asked by professional and collegiate sports teams, and even Olympic teams, for help in improving physical fitness. Some high school teams have gotten in on the idea as well.

Stella was invited to Northwestern this summer to run the football team there through an intense workout regimen. He wanted to stop by his alma mater while he was in town.

New head coach Mike Jones and the rest of his staff at Libertyville jumped at the opportunity.

"I'm in part of a program for the SEALs in which we're able to give back to the community while also promoting awareness about the SEALs, to the point where it might even get people interested in our program," said Stella, who has been a SEAL for nearly 15 years and has traveled all over the world on various missions. "We do a lot of SEALs fitness challenges. We've worked with USA Swimming, the women's Olympic water polo team, football teams.

"I was really excited to know that I'd be able to work with the kids from Libertyville while we were in the (Chicago) area. It's a great program for young teams because you get athletes out of their comfort zone, which is exactly what usually happens in games. You're never going to be totally comfortable in a game, and things might not always go your way. We also work a lot on trusting your teammates, because you can never do it all on your own."

With so much on the agenda, Stella got to work bright and early with the Wildcats, opening with a more cerebral session in the auditorium. Using a Power Point presentation, he talked about the importance of teamwork and mental toughness and taught the Wildcats techniques on how to efficiently deal with stress.

"We learned that you can handle adversity by using techniques like visualization and goal-setting, and even breathing," Salata said. "You stay calm and think things through. It's like what the SEALs try to do to push through all the mental hurdles they face. What they go through is above and beyond anything in football, but you can still apply those techniques to football."

All of the Wildcats understand that now. They're crystal clear on it.

But some didn't fully process that advice the first time around. And the entire team heard about it.

"I guess a couple of the younger guys started dozing off during the presentation in the auditorium and they got caught," Deichl said, now able to laugh about it. "They made those kids come to the front and do pushups. Then, we were all doing pushups. I bet we did 100 pushups before we even got outside."

Now fully awake and beginning to understand with more clarity the rigors they were in for, the Wildcats moved outside, where the mud-crawling, log-lugging, relay races, obstacle courses, sit-ups, squats, bear crawls and other challenges and competitions got underway.

The action was nonstop for several hours, except for occasional minute-long water breaks.

"When we got outside, there was this big inflatable rubber boat that was filled with water and the first thing we had to do was jump in, get all wet and then crawl around in the baseball diamond so that we would get all dirty and muddy," Deichl said. "If you weren't dirty enough, they'd make you go back and crawl around some more.

"It was all about getting us out of our comfort zone. How would we handle a situation when we weren't comfortable and things weren't going the best?"

Communication and teamwork were then tested in the log exercise, one of the toughest challenges of the day.

"That was taxing, definitely my least favorite part of the day," Salata said of the logs. "You usually had about seven guys on a log and everyone had to carry his weight without a let-up or you'd lose balance and hurt your teammates. It was really tough. Everyone was really sore from that one.

"By the end of the day, everyone was glad it was over, but I think we were already starting to realize that the experience would make us much stronger in the end."

By the looks of the Barrington game, it probably also made the Wildcats stronger in the beginning. In fact, after that improbable Opening Night win, Deichl is now such a believer in the SEALs training techniques that he hopes the coaches at Libertyville will make SEALs Day an annual tradition.

"The experience brings you together, it's worth the pain," Deichl said. "Hats off to what the SEALs do every day because training with them showed us what hard work really is.

"The attitude that you have to have in football can be a lot like the attitude that you have to have (in the military). You have to continue to push and attack through tough situations. You have to trust that the guy next to you has your back. We learned a lot of great lessons."

And apparently most of them stuck. After all, the Wildcats passed their first real test with flying colors. The SEALs would be proud … and in fact, they were.

"I read about the (Barrington) game on the Internet," Stella said. "They had a rough time but they came back and came through. I was very proud of them.

"We actually talked with them about the kind of focus you need when it feels like you're facing an overwhelming situation. You stay calm and you chip away. You don't try to fix everything all at once. It looks like it paid off."

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