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Preparation at USMMA is unique, to say the least

An image of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

An image of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy helmet.

Ship out, shape up. Just another requirement on the long to-do list for football players at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Middle linebacker James Cameron is a case in point. The Plainview JFK graduate had 12 months of sea duty over the last two years. In the floating classroom that is required for all midshipmen, there are no standard football-related facilities.

"They called it a gym, all it was was a broken Bowflex and a few free weights,'' he said of the recreation room in the ship's underbelly. "You have to work around that with a lot of jump ropes and push-ups. We try and go out together as football players,you push each other out at sea. On the first ship, I would volunteer to drag the chains around for the cars and the cargo we were carrying. You just have to kind of make do."

Becoming a .500 team -- or a bit better -- would be a significant achievement for these busy athletes. "I strongly believe we will be a winning football team this year," Cameron said. "Guys who weren't out at sea put up some impressive numbers in the weight room. We seem all ready to go. Everyone has one mentality, that's winning football games."

If practice seems to drag on for those at more traditional colleges, the USMMA players look forward to the diversion from their stringent academy schedule.

"All the stuff we have to do makes football all that much better for us, makes it kind of an escape from the regimen," Cameron said.

"Coach [Mike] Toop always says when we get through the hedges of the field that all that regimental stuff is gone. It's a relief, you get to go out and play the game you love. I think we appreciate it more here than at other schools that we can play football."

New York Sports