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SU football goes into 'battle'


FORT DRUM — Zach Chibane, Macky MacPherson, Dorian Graham and Jeremi Wilkes stood behind an imaginary wall on post, weapons drawn ready to clear a room.

The soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team dubbed them the "A Team."

"I'm Mr. T, I guess," said Graham, who sports a Mohawk.

The team — actually four members of the Syracuse University football squad — ran into the room and pointed their M4 carbine rifles in every direction to make sure no threat existed. A sergeant corrected one of the team members' technique, telling him to not shoot his buddy.

It's training scenarios like this that will help the team when they face the likes of the University of Southern California Trojans in September. Instead of working on football skills Friday, they got to know each other the way soldiers do.

"You trust that guy behind you that he's going to do his job and do what he's supposed to do to get the job done," said SU defensive end Chandler Jones, who was on the "B Team" with Michael Hay, Justin Pugh and Orlando Fisher.

The eight players later trained more at simulated Afghan villages, but the day wasn't all physical activity.

Brigade commander Col. Patrick D. Frank spoke to the athletes from Afghanistan via video teleconference.

Syracuse Orange's director for player development, Robert Brotzki thought it was an opportunity for his players to see how their peers live.

"A lot of our troops overseas are the same age as these guys and I think it's important for them to know what's going on and be aware of the situation," he said. "They're having some fun out here, but hopefully it's a great learning experience."

Last season during a Syracuse football game, members of Fort Drum were invited and cheered on the Orange at the Carrier Dome.

Sgt. Joseph J. Luia — who plays defensive end for the Watertown Red and Black — trained the athletes and also believes football and infantry are about camaraderie and trust.

"If I go into a house and I know there's insurgents inside the house, I'd want my best friend behind me and my best friend in front of me because they have my life in their hands," he said. "It's just like a football team, they've got each other's back in the field, we have each other's back in the combat field."

The A and B teams played paintball but there was no victor. Each team won two games.

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