Football freshmen benefit from mentoring to foster community
For most Washington University freshmen, the transition to college begins this week through Bear Beginnings, but for the 40 freshmen playing football, the process begins before the majority of students even arrive on campus.
These “South 40” freshmen have spent long days in the St. Louis heat since arriving on Aug. 11 to prepare for the upcoming football season. They are immersed in coach Larry Kindbom’s program from the very first day, bonding with their new teammates along the way.
Freshman linebacker Jake Coon describes the team’s daily routine.
“It’s all day here. You know, we get up in the morning at 7, we have lights out at 11, and it’s just meetings and film all day and then practice, and you’re just with the team non-stop.”
The proximity to teammates, including shared housing, allows the players to bond naturally. Kindbom’s preference is to allow his upperclassmen to mentor the freshmen, fostering an environment where veterans teach and rookies absorb.
“I believe there’s a tradition here where our upperclassmen have always taken on that role which kind of takes it away from me a little bit, so all I’m going to do is expose them to those other people,” Kindbom said.
The camaraderie of the team, a microcosm of the University as a whole, ensures continuity, despite the cyclical nature of college sports where annual turnover is natural. Key seniors, such as all-UAA (University Athletic Association) tackle Will Thompson and all-UAA linebacker Fade Oluokun, are gone, but Kindbom has brought in reinforcements in the form of 40 talented, high-character playmakers. In fact, 60 percent of the incoming freshmen were captains on their high school teams. The infusion of leadership should prove to extend, if not enhance, the brotherly culture of the Bears.
Of course, each of these freshmen experienced much individual success in high school, many winning all-conference or all-state honors and many leading their teams to state championships. This can make it strange to start anew, learning a new system and trying to prove themselves once again. However, many of them are taking it in stride.
Coon, a three-year letter winner, conference champion and defensive player of the year in high school, acknowledges that “it’s weird being back down at the bottom of the totem pole, but you know, I see the captains now and they’re kind of like my role models, you know. I want to get to where they are. They’re seniors, and I’m a freshman. I have a long way to go, but I’m just trying to look up to them and follow in their footsteps and just follow the process of being them.”
But being able to size up with college-level competition is as important as feeling at home in the locker room. Freshman wide receiver DeAndre Wilson acknowledged that “it’s a lot harder [than high school]. Everything about college is harder than high school. It’s been hard, but it’s been a good experience.”
The Bears coaching staff begins to get its players ready early, getting them on a training program from the beginning of summer. Speaking on coach Terry O’Neill, Coon said he “gave us the guidelines of the lifting and the running, so I was pretty prepared coming in because I followed that and then, everything here is just faster. You know, move at a quicker pace and everything’s just a notch up.”
Kindbom, who Wilson describes as “very enthusiastic,” also understands the importance of helping his players grow off the football field.
“I want them to know that we got a career center, and it’s a great career center. So our freshmen are already starting to work with that, and for a lot of freshmen, they don’t begin to see that until the end of their first year, maybe their sophomore year, and I don’t want them to wait that long,” he said.
Kindbom envisions a program where his players compete on the field, have a lot of fun and succeed academically. He plans on his team winning this season, even given its youth. For that to happen, expect some of the freshman to step up and play major roles.