Before they had even crossed the Illinois-Wisconsin border, Bryce McNaul had heard all the horror stories of Camp Kenosha.
“On the bus ride up, you’re just hearing stories from the older guys about the trail of tears walking from the dorm all the way to the practice field and all the lost souls along the way,” said McNaul.
It became a tradition back in 1992. Gary Barnett was the first Northwestern coach who took his team on the one-hour bus ride from Evanston to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. For one week in August, the Wildcats call Kenosha home.
Once a player who experienced Camp Kenosha, Pat Fitzgerald now carries on the tradition started by his coach. Fitzgerald now sees opportunity which Barnett saw 19 years ago—a team-building experience.
“It’s football-only 24-7,” said Fitzgerald. “The guys that live off campus get to come to the dorms, they get back to the old-school ways and get out of their creature comforts and build chemistry though that, hopefully come together, build some unity and an attitude.”
Fitzgerald can also still recall his first trip to Camp Kenosha back in August of 1993—the second year that Barnett took the team north of the border.
“It was a challenge,” said Fitzgerald. “It was a challenge more mentally than it was physically but it forced you to mature and grow up real quick.”
During his first camp, McNaul quickly learned that there was no trail of tears or lost souls—just football and only football. However, things were different. McNaul was still recovering from an injury and was working on a rehab assignment. Kenosha was the last place he wanted to be.
McNaul was feeling lost at Camp Kenosha and found himself in a challenging situation. He still remembers how his head coach pulled him through it.
“I came in injured and went from being the star in high school to being the injured kid no one cared about on the field,” said McNaul.
“One day, Coach Fitz came up to me when I was doing my rehab and said, let’s get a jog. I took a jog around these field with Coach Fitz—just he and I—for probably about 20 minutes. We were just shooting the breeze and jogging together and that kind of personal experience with the head coach was really special to me and helped me get through that first year.”
From that moment on, McNaul saw what Camp Kenosha was all about. There is no trail of tears and no lost souls—just football.
McNaul has dealt with injuries during each of his first four seasons at Northwestern and his most recent recovery lapsed into the spring. Now, he is at 100 percent health and is focused on football. He now has come to appreciate Camp Kenosha and sees it from a different view.
“Once you get here and get into the groove of football and football all the time, you start living it,” said McNaul. “You better appreciate it because it’s a gift and not everyone can do it.”