By Tara Lestarjette / University Relations

Their experiences may come from different fields, but members of both the Sam Houston State university football team and the Army ROTC understand the importance of working as a cohesive unit.

Though the football season won't kick off until Sept. 1, head coach Willie Fritz's "Operation All In" brought the two groups together in the spring for an exercise that would test the leadership and strength of his young team.

Held on the ROTC's Field Leadership Reaction Course at Gibbs Ranch, the team-building event served as a culmination for a semester-long program in which Fritz breaks his team into squads in the spring to compete for points. Squads earn points for things such as going to class or showing strong character qualities.

The program helps to build camaraderie amongst players who do not always play on the same side of the ball, according to Fritz, who said he has been utilizing the plan for a number of years with his players with great success.

"Operation All In" also gave SHSU ROTC senior cadets the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership and organizational skills. Cadets were put in charge of overseeing the approximately 500-meter obstacle course-a set of four challenges-as well as a paintball battle and the hamburger supper that ended the event.

Cadets also were responsible for explaining and guiding the eight squads throughout the obstacles. Each football squad was allowed 10 minutes to complete a task.

The operation tested the team's mental and physical toughness and provided the coaches an opportunity to assess the team leadership," said Lt. Col. David Yebra, head of the military science department. "Most importantly, the challenge strengthens the bonds that already exist within the team."

For Yebra, it was also an opportunity to share with another group the kinds of tasks his cadets regularly perform on the Field Leadership Reaction Course as part of their military preparation. SHSU also hosts other schools at the facility for training purposes.

"The obstacles are designed to test leadership capability that includes physical strength combined with innovative approaches to the challenges we present," Yebra said. "We use the FLRC for the same purpose throughout the year in very much the same way we did with the (football) team.

"This experience is good for the players as well as the cadets," he said. "It provides our cadets with excellent experience, and it is important for them to know how to lead and keep their squad safe. A big part of that is knowing how to explain the situation and give directions."

At the end of the obstacle course, the team faced off in a "force-on-force" paintball war, with "a little surprise" twist: coaches hid in the wooded area before the squads were sent out, waiting to "engage" their players in the field, according to Yebra.

After the 20-minute round, the ROTC provided a hamburger cookout for the squads before making them hit the field again for a "coaches' challenge," designed to test the players' abilities to "go the extra mile."

"The 'coaches' challenge' was the final physical check at the end of the day to show how the Bearkats can fight all the way through the 'fourth quarter,'" Yebra said. "The coaches, along with our cadre (ROTC staff members), designed the final event as a culmination 'gut check' highlighting our physical toughness to confirm what we already know about our team.

"This is where they really get to test their ability to stay 'all-in,'" he said.

"This was a valuable exercise for the team," Sam Houston senior offensive lineman Travis Watson said. "It was cool. We really enjoyed the paintball. Our guys can get pretty competitive. The obstacle courses were fun as well."

Throughout the afternoon, the squad cadets were assessed for traits of leadership and attitude. Their input was used to decide which players would be recognized at the conclusion of the operation.

"What a great experience the day was for our football team," Fritz said. "Learning to work together as a team is vital to success on the field. Seeing the players learning to come together to solve problems and overcome obstacles was a lot of fun.

"ROTC and the football team are obviously two very different entities," he said. "However, we do have a lot in common. We both want to push our students to be the best they can be at what they are doing. This was a good opportunity for us to work together toward a common goal."