Inside Cowboys’ crash course with ex-Navy SEALs, whom Dak Prescott recruited to help end Super Bowl drought

Gathered within the basement of a three-floor dwelling on Georgia’s Lake Oconee, 17 Dallas Cowboys gamers fell silent.

A former Military Ranger and Lieutenant Colonel stood earlier than them. The Silver Star and 6 Bronze Stars he had earned in fight spoke loudly at the same time as Brian Kitching spoke softly.

The primary phrases out of his mouth: “February 11, 2024.”

The date of this season’s Tremendous Bowl set the tone for the three-day psychological efficiency workshop that quarterback Dak Prescott organized in July for his teammates.

This wasn’t merely a handful of starters assembly as much as run routes and evaluate their performs (sure, that occurred, too). This was a broader, extra culturally centered clinic that no coach or crew staffer influenced. Prescott emerged from the Cowboys’ second straight postseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers saying: I have to exhaust all assets.

How might he guarantee a roster broadly thought-about to have contending-caliber expertise doesn’t fall brief once more?

“I do not wanna simply be tradition, tradition and the right way to construct a greater tradition as a result of we’re good on that — it’s extra about the right way to use your tradition,” Prescott informed Yahoo Sports activities. “It doesn’t imply something if guys aren’t telling us what they’re sacrificing or what they’re making an attempt to get higher at, and if different guys aren’t holding them to that.”

In March, Prescott and his advertising agent Peter Miller met with former Navy SEALs Adam La Reau and Paul McCullough over dinner to listen to in regards to the firm they’d co-founded to boost bodily and psychological efficiency amongst authorities, regulation enforcement and army businesses. O2X — brief for “Optimize to the X,” a army crucial to at all times discover probably the most optimum method to hit the goal, even because it adjustments — tailors workshops round diet, sleep, conditioning, resilience and stress administration.

Prescott particularly wished to realize a psychological edge. He wished his total offense to realize it, too.

“He gravitated straight away to something neck up,” McCullough informed Yahoo Sports activities throughout a latest Zoom name. “Something about tradition, accountability, goal-setting or getting 1% higher, his eyes lit up.”

So O2X curated a five-session curriculum rooted in methods that particular operations models make use of to thrive in high-threat conditions. Interactive classes on tactical resets, sacrifice and goal-setting spanned three days, Prescott “most proud about” his teammates’ buy-in. “Each one of many guys had a pocket book filled with notes,” he beamed. Amid methods to win every second and day, the “X” was specific.

The Cowboys. Within the Tremendous Bowl. On Feb. 11, 2024.

“The very first thing they mentioned, actually each single one among them, they have been like, ‘We wish a championship. We wish to win,’” Cowboys broad receiver Michael Gallup informed Yahoo Sports activities. “And it’s similar to, rattling, if y’all are considering that and y’all don’t even play? And also you simply bought that from one dialog with Dak?

“S***, I’m on board. I’m on board.”

‘The distinction between profitable and dropping’

Within the heart of a chandelier-lit ballroom, Cowboys gamers divided into two groups. Every crew obtained a focus grid, the posters together with each quantity from zero to 99 in jumbled trend. The groups have been to race: Which group might discover each quantity on the poster, in descending order, most shortly? And the way calmly might gamers execute these choices when the stress of competitors was on, full with razzing (receiver Brandin Cooks even snuck into his opponent’s huddle to level at incorrect numbers) and an “immense quantity of s***-talking,” per McCullough?

O2X assigned every participant a heart-rate monitor to additional display how physiology impacts their decision-making.

Screams heightened as every focus board neared completion, a marker hurled into the air as one crew erupted when it gained by 0.02 seconds. Or so that they thought. The alleged victor had missed the quantity ‘2’.

“The small issues, the main points, that each one issues,” broad receiver CeeDee Lamb informed Yahoo Sports activities. “Understanding your job, understanding your duty and what you gotta do subsequent.

“It’s the distinction between profitable and dropping.”

The Cowboys discovered that within the divisional spherical of the 2021 season playoffs, when Prescott picked up 17 yards on second-and-1 with 14 seconds to play, then didn’t join with the officers in time to identify the ball for a closing play. (An official NFL field rating suggests Prescott spiked the ball with 1 second remaining, however the Cowboys weren’t granted one other play.)

I do not wanna simply be tradition, tradition and the right way to construct a greater tradition as a result of we’re good on that – it’s extra about the right way to use your tradition.Dak Prescott, Cowboys QB

Errors once more differentiated their first and second playoff video games this previous January: When the Cowboys prevented turnovers within the wild card, they beat Tom Brady and the Buccaneers 31-14. In a 19-12 divisional-round loss to San Francisco, Prescott threw two interceptions. The Cowboys have adopted extra West Coast ideas this offseason in hopes of honing precision between Prescott and his targets.

Thus the specter of the Cowboys’ Tremendous Bowl has continued to hold heavy within the humid North Texas air for greater than 27 years.

The Cowboys final performed in an NFC Championship sport, a lot much less a Tremendous Bowl, following the 1995 season. They gained their third Tremendous Bowl in 4 years on Jan. 28, 1996. Twelve subsequent playoff berths have ended prematurely.

Beneath head coach Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys have proven progress, reaching the playoffs in consecutive years for the primary time since 2006-07 and posting consecutive double-digit profitable seasons for the primary time since 1995 and 1996.

However making elite choices within the highest-stakes moments shall be essential to breaking the drought. O2X instructors shared respiration and mindfulness workouts to assist decision-making.

In moments the place gamers have extra time, they inhale for 5 seconds after which exhale for seven. Once they want a faster reset, one deep breath can equally calm their minds and our bodies. Cowboys gamers have additionally begun integrating what O2X calls a “three by three,” saying aloud three issues they really feel, three issues they hear and three issues they see as a way of blocking out inner and exterior distractions.

In huddles at coaching camp, Prescott gave his receivers two-handed fist bumps and informed them: “Breathe. Take a breath. We’re blessed. We’re grateful that we even get this collection.”

“Simply with the ability to do this now at follow, once I do it in a sport, that’s gonna be a grounding mechanism for all of them that it sounds simply the identical as we do at follow,” Prescott mentioned. “It’ll be a method to block out regardless of the state of affairs is and perceive: ‘Hey, that is what we do. Resort again to the coaching. Resort again to all the things that we put in it.’”

Can Dak, Cowboys energy new methods to Tremendous Bowl?

The Cowboys’ first likelihood to floor themselves in a stay huddle will come below brilliant lights, on Sunday Night time Soccer this week on the New York Giants. Within the midst of a prime-time division matchup, count on Prescott to distribute fist bumps and breath imperatives. However the Cowboys’ utility of their new coaching gained’t finish there.

They may proceed to chase the philosophical pursuits they mentioned amid a U-shaped desk in Georgia, the particular targets every participant wrote down and shared aloud along with his teammates as they aspire to “incrementally get 1% higher.” Might there be higher proof of idea than the 100-square focus grid end result, when one crew certainly beat their competitors on 99% of the board — however misplaced as a result of they did not grasp that 1%?

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a brand new mantra after their courses with Navy SEALs: “February 11, 2024,” the date of Tremendous Bowl LVIII. (Courtesy of Peter Miller)

After which there have been the extra private moments, like when Prescott gathered his teammates Friday evening on the again patio over cigars and requested them: Who’re you? And the way would you clarify how you bought right here?

Gamers started to open up in regards to the successes and adversities that led them to the 2023 Cowboys’ 90-man roster; about their households and their hometowns. Prescott’s highly effective life story of loss and love has lengthy been on show globally. However now, understanding his teammates extra acutely, he plans to encourage every with their individualized whys.

That’s what La Reau and McCullough had hoped their worksheets and introspective conversations would produce, establishing an ethos that these gamers discuss overtly amongst each other not solely in regards to the current but in addition about their pasts and future.

“If we drive extra communication so individuals pull out extra truths and suggestions, then they’re in a position to unpack it and be taught from all of it season lengthy to speak and develop,” La Reau informed Yahoo Sports activities. “Communication and dialogue isn’t a technique.”

Gallup mentioned he might see that translating at coaching camp when rookies approached Prescott with questions. Regardless of that Prescott is an eight-year veteran, the longest-tenured quarterback within the NFL and now 30 years outdated.

“I do know once I got here in I used to be nervous to ask him a query, however now they’re not scared to ask him something,” Gallup mentioned. “They arrive in right here now, they’re good.”

Cooks, who joined the Cowboys this offseason after stints on 4 totally different groups, together with Tremendous Bowl appearances with the Patriots and Rams, mentioned he’d “by no means carried out something like that.”

“You get collectively within the offseason along with your crew and quarterback, however by no means to that magnitude,” Cooks informed Yahoo Sports activities. “That was fairly particular for Dak to have the ability to placed on and actually suppose forward like that.”

The cognitive dissonance of staying deeply within the second whereas additionally not dropping sight of the bigger purpose forward will proceed. The breaths, goal-setting and open discussions about sacrifice will carry by means of the season.

All alongside, Prescott and his receivers will suppose again to the primary phrases of their Lake Oconee workshop. The phrases that have been spoken softly however mentioned volumes.

“February 11, 2024.”

“That s*** was superb, excuse my language,” Lamb mentioned. “The most effective feeling ever. Undoubtedly we hope and we’re gonna proceed to work till we get there.

“February 11 can’t come quickly sufficient.”

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