Daily Egyptian

SIU football building family atmosphere on and off the field

Wide+receiver+Darrell+James%2C+right%2C+reaches+for+a+pass+as+cornerback+C.J.+Jennings+attempts+to+make+a+block+during+SIU%27s+fall+football+scrimmage+Saturday+at+Saluki+Stadium+in+Carbondale.+%28Ryan+Michalesko+%7C+%40photosbylesko%29
Wide receiver Darrell James, right, reaches for a pass as cornerback C.J. Jennings attempts to make a block during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Wide receiver Darrell James, right, reaches for a pass as cornerback C.J. Jennings attempts to make a block during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Wide receiver Darrell James, right, reaches for a pass as cornerback C.J. Jennings attempts to make a block during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Ted Ward

The team that quotes “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Forrest Gump” together stays together.

With the boys of fall filling up stadiums all over the country, coach Nick Hill and his staff hopes to create a family atmosphere that makes the Salukis more than just teammates on a roster.

“We want players to feel like they’re a part of a family culture,” Hill said. “We want every player to know every player and coach by his name and not just a title or a coach.”   

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Senior middle linebacker Chase Allen said the team’s camaraderie has improved from last season and the players seem more comfortable around each other. While the team stretched during practice, players recited famous quotes, such as Spongebob’s “Leedle Leedle Leedle,” or calling one another “Lt. Dan” from Forrest Gump. 

Head football coach Nick Hill speaks with the team following SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Head football coach Nick Hill speaks with the team following SIU’s fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Players also got to know each other while competing off the field at game nights.   

The competitions range from 3-point contests to bowling night, which wide receivers coach Ashton Aikens won.

“When a guy brings his own bowling ball to bowling night, you know you’re going to be in for a long night,” Hill jokingly said of Aikens’ hidden talent.   

Aikens said it is important for players to compete against each other off the field.

“With coach Hill and I being former football players, we understand that competition is necessary and competition makes each other better because guys push themselves to work harder,” Aikens said. “When we compete off the field, guys want to win and push themselves and that translates back onto the field.”  

Players race for the ball during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Players race for the ball during SIU’s fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

The budding relationships between the players and coaches are reflected in practice. Players are constantly asking questions if they don’t understand concepts and the coaches are quick to respond, coaches said.  

Allen said that type of relationship was built long before the bowling tournament. 

“When [new strength and conditioning] coach Meade [Smith] worked with us in the offseason, he really pushed us to get better and it’s translated to the field,” Allen said of Smith, who Hill brought on in May.   

With a 3-8 record last season, Allen said the new relationships built with the coaching staff had a positive impact on the rest of the team.   

“We had a lot of tough losses where we were just one or two plays away from winning,” the preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference linebacker said. “It really helped us mature as a team. We’ve worked really hard in the offseason getting after it in the weight room and in film to improve and have a better season.”

MORE: SIU quarterback battle is still a coin flip

The Salukis kick off the 2016 season against Florida Atlantic at 5 p.m. Sept. 3 in Boca Raton, Fla.  

Staff writer Ted Ward can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @TedWard_DE.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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