Take Me to Camp
As the Chiefs return to St. Joseph, Missouri, this month for training camp, here’s an insider preview of camp culture from the players and predictions for their 2015 season.
In the days when their training camp was located at River Falls, Wisconsin, there might be a few hundred Chiefs fans watching practice on any given day. That changed when the Chiefs' summer home moved to the campus of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph in 2010. Now thousands routinely flock to the Chiefs' spiffy training facility to get their first look at the team.
It's the right fit for the franchise, so much so that the contract was extended at Missouri Western for three more years in January.
"The community has been overwhelmingly supportive," Chiefs president Mark Donovan says. "When you're up there as a member of this organization — players, coaches, the front office staff — we just feel like they want us there. And they're happy that we're here."
The players, too, are grateful for the proximity to Arrowhead Stadium.
"The 913 and 816 area codes get to come up and watch as many practices as they want to. As opposed to having to plan a family trip, they can take a day trip," says punter Dustin Colquitt, who's been with the Chiefs since 2005. "This is a great, more consistent fan base up here."
The Chiefs' first practice that is open to the public is scheduled for Aug. 1 at 3:30 p.m. For Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith, the camp setup couldn't be better and it's a nice shift from when he was with the San Francisco 49ers, a team that didn't travel any distance to camp at all.
"The two things that are actually fun about training camp are one, the competition, because it's just us versus the defense," Smith says. "There's a lot of trash talk. There's a lot of back-and-forth. ‘Who's gonna get who’ that day, ‘that play?’ I really enjoy that, and I think that's what makes training camp fun. The other thing is just being around the guys….There's no distractions, and it's really us becoming a team."
There's no other professional sport quite like football where you're sequestered for three weeks of learning schemes and teambuilding at a college campus before the regular season starts. The rapport and the brotherhood that is cultivated at training camp is unique to any other point in the season.
"Everybody goes to bed at the same time, everybody's going to meetings, going to practice and being on the same page," says linebacker Derrick Johnson. "It's a big time to get a lot of things done, and if you take advantage of the opportunity, it can prepare you to peak at the right time during the season. But that camaraderie and chemistry has to be done in training camp."
A common thread among the players is how training camp at Missouri Western creates a family atmosphere that is a staple of coach Andy Reid's teams. It also has the look of a carnival atmosphere when American Family Fun Day rolls around.
On Aug. 8, Family Fun Day is an opportunity for kids to get autographs from their favorite players, put themselves through the paces with football drills or wear themselves out in a bouncy castle as their parents enjoy practice. The first Family Fun Day in 2010 was held in the evening and set the all-time attendance record at camp. This year, it's bright and early.
"The big thing about practice that's changed with Andy being in charge is having the morning practices, which is really a good thing for our players and our coaches," Donovan says. "It gives us a whole day of productivity, and it gives the guys on the field in pads a way to try to avoid some of the heat that we're going to have up there.”
And what are the pundits saying about the Chiefs’ prospects this season? Many football analysts, including legendary football executive Gil Brandt from NFL.com, are bullish on the Chiefs' chances of toppling the Denver Broncos from the AFC West elite in 2015. Former Missouri Tiger Jeremy Maclin bolsters the receiving corps and is reunited with Reid from their years with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs should be stronger defending the run with Johnson and Mike DeVito returning from the ruptured Achilles tendons they both suffered in week 1 of last season. And Smith looks to open up an offense that also features star running back Jamaal Charles in his prime.
"Right now, everybody has high hopes. That's the NFL," Smith says. "And the margin of winning and losing is so small, between playoffs and no playoffs and winning a championship. The margins are so little. It's all the little things that make the difference."
From Donovan's perspective, the continuity with the players and the coaching staff, with Reid and general manager John Dorsey now in their third season, could pay off in 2015.
"I always tell the story of year one, when we had coaches who were trying to figure out where the bathrooms are in our building, let alone how to call plays and how to be efficient on the practice field," Donovan says. "Even in year two, you've got players who are trying to learn terminology and systems. Just looking at the team, so far, through offseason training and our mini camps, they are so far ahead of where they've been just because of the continuity. That's something to be excited about."
Chiefs training camp runs until Aug. 19. The first preseason home game at Arrowhead is against the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks on Aug. 21. For more info on the Chiefs and their regular season schedule visit kcchiefs.com.
Kansas City’s first open practice to the public will be on Saturday, Aug. 1. Alumni Day will be on Sunday, Aug. 2, “American Family” Fun Day will take place on Saturday, Aug. 8, and Season Ticket Member Appreciation Day will be held Wednesday, Aug. 12. Full team autograph sessions are scheduled to take place Aug.1, Aug. 2, Aug. 8 and Aug. 12. The Chiefs will hold a Military Appreciation Day at training camp this season on Wednesday, Aug. 19. Unless otherwise noted, all training camp practices will be free of charge. Missouri Western will charge a $5 parking fee per vehicle per day. On Aug. 1 and Aug. 8, MWSU will charge a $5 admission fee into practice. For more info on training camps visit http://www.stjomo.com/kcchiefs/