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Eagles emphasizing mental game this season

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

Training camp offers an intense three-week period for UW-L football players to gear up for the physical demands of another college football season.

Practices can be long, adjusting to new schemes and players can be difficult, and overcoming mental adversity can be frustrating.

In light of those possibilities, the Eagles' leadership council - a 10-player panel elected by the team - has formed a new partnership with Sports Management senior lecturer Kevin King to discuss the mental aspect of football.

Formed in February, the group meets once a week to discuss and implement the fundamentals of leadership, communication, psychology and development. The goal is to change the mindset within the program, and to make the players better leaders.

"We're very strategic in what we're doing," said King, who also serves as a player development and coaching staff development consultant for the team. " Everything we do is very calculated, and it speaks to one of those four pillars."

King leads the session each week, asking the 10 players about practice tempo and morale, ways to improve communication between players and groups, and other game-related issues. He also speaks with head coach Joel Dettwiler frequently.

While players were skeptical at first, they have bought in to what King has to say.

"Once he told us what he wanted to get accomplished, it was real exciting," said junior wide receiver Samuel Zwieg. "Guys opened up their eyes and were able to see what we needed to do to start winning games and actually get to where we want to go."

Senior quarterback Trent Cummings has served on the leadership council for three seasons. He said there is a noticeable difference in the comfort level for players to communicate.

"I think that Professor King and coach Dettwiler's efforts to make this team more of a unit and more unified has been tremendous and it's really paying off for us."

As for Dettwiler, he said he had to adjust to the idea of having his players hold more control, but is pleased with the growth of his athletes into leaders, and the talks he's shared with King.

"Sometimes it's just good conversation, other times it's like, 'Hey, you should try this,' or, "I'm observing you do this, work on saying it this way,'" Dettwiler said. "It's fun from a professional development point, standpoint for me that I can then help out the players too. So everybody's getting in on the mix."

A point of emphasis heading into training camp is closing out games, as the Eagles lost four contests in 2014 by seven points or fewer. Everyone involved in the leadership council hopes the ideas being implemented now will equate to wins in close games once the season begins.

"We're big on performance, so what I want to see five, six weeks from now is that we're executing game plans really well, we are doing all the things we're being taught in and out of the classroom, and that we're winning."

Cummings said the pressure is on the players to take the next step.

"We've been given all these tools, all these resources to utilize and it's up to us to put them forward into our play and into our teamwork and into our goals to come out with W's."

UW-L will hold a intrasquad scrimmage Thursday at Roger Harring Stadium. The Eagles open the season Friday, September 4 against Luther College.

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