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Harbaugh promotes team bonding at local hotel

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh kept players guessing throughout camp.

Most late nights these last few weeks as they prepared for the season, which kicks off Saturday against Hawaii, they received a text informing them of the next day’s practice schedule.

Everything was an unknown until that text appeared, usually around 11:30 p.m.

“The schedule is kind of like a surprise,” defensive lineman Matt Godin said Tuesday. “You have fun with it. You’re like, ‘Oh, I wonder what tomorrow is going to be?’”

Harbaugh had his reasons.

“It definitely makes you not be able to be complacent and makes you not be able to feel comfortable,” offensive guard Kyle Kalis said. “I think coach Harbaugh loves keeping us on our toes like that. It’s been working.”

Kalis believes Harbaugh dips into his past, playing at Michigan under Bo Schembechler, for some of his approach to shaping his team. Harbaugh stayed in the dorms when he was in camp as a player, so his players stay in the dorms now.

“A lot with coach Harbaugh when he tries to teach us and instill into us is the way Bo did it,” Kalis said. “Dorms with no air conditioning is part of it. That definitely hardened us up a little bit. It’s kind of like he brings together everybody with the suffering.”

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This week, the team is staying at the nearby Kensington Hotel instead having the players living at their apartments or dorms as they will the rest of the season.

“I would say more bonding,” Godin said when asked why the team is at a hotel. “We all stay together and definitely brings the team closer. It keeps everyone focused too. When you’re all staying in one spot, you keep an eye on everyone.”

Kalis said the Kensington is a definite upgrade from what they’ve had this camp.

“High class. The beds are amazing. Better than dorms,” Kalis said laughing, before delving into why Harbaugh has chosen this route. “The purpose of that, I think coach is, especially you have some deals like what happened at Notre Dame (with recent player arrests) which is unfortunate, so I think he’s keeping that in mind.

“Keeping all the guys together and not really letting the idea of camp break (settle in). Because I think the idea when you break camp, guys are like, ‘Oh, we’re off. We’re off. This is our off time before the game.’ Not breaking camp really until after the game is really keeping us locked in. So I think it’s really a smart move on coach’s part.”

Team bonding has been a focus for this team. It began in the spring when Harbaugh took the Wolverines to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for a week to hold four practices during spring break. The players stayed in the facilities on-site and besides practicing four days also took beach trips and had other team activities.

Staying at a hotel this week is an extension of that week during spring break.

“Shared time, shared suffering, two ways to really make relationships stick,” senior receiver Jehu Chesson said Tuesday, quoting a Navy SEAL who spoke to the team a few years ago. “We’ve definitely shared the suffering (during camp), and we’re sharing the time in the hotel. It’s the perfect formula to put a team together. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Chesson explained Harbaugh’s approach.

“What coach always tries to do is, if you play football a lot, you’ll get good at playing football,” Chesson said. “If you study a lot, you’ll get good at whatever you’re studying. Sometimes if people ask, oh why don’t we go do a training course that doesn’t have anything to do with football? That’s fun. But coach is (about), ‘We’re playing football and that’s the only way we’re going to get good is playing football.’

“When coach makes an emphasis of bonding through football and once you bond through football and you know the guy has your back like — if I get a signal from the quarterback I give it to (receiver) Amara (Darboh), he knows I have his back, right? Because we’ve been doing this over and over and it’s like a well-oiled machine and that’s kind of what coach wants us to build this up to.”