OXNARD, Calif. – The middle ground is buzzing. Dallas Cowboys fans throng the area to shop for jerseys, t-shirts, hats and replica helmets. Some chew down on food. Others are content to sit and listen to a DJ play music.
This is a scene that played out over and over again for the more than two weeks that the Cowboys were at training camp in California.
It has become a summer ritual. Just like the fans in Green Bay watch the Packers players ride their bikes to practice, the Cowboys have Oxnard.
“I love bringing the Cowboys to California,” said owner and general manager Jerry Jones as his team visited the city of over 200,000 between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
“California has a great tradition for us. We certainly have our 16 years here, 43 in total here in California. It’s just a great tradition. We do everything to achieve this.”
Achieving this is a six-month process, if not longer, as the Cowboys move their operations from The Star — their state-of-the-art home in Frisco, Texas — to Oxnard, which is about 1,500 miles away. The Cowboys are one of six NFL teams to hold camp off their home facility and believe the benefits — which include pleasant 75-degree weather and opportunity for players — are many.
For the second year in a row, the team has taken over the 32 buildings of the River Ridge Residence Inn to house players, coaches and staff. Yes, Jones, the multi-billion dollar owner, sleeps in the same type of bed as the players.
The seven figure cost of a camp in Oxnard requires close coordination between everyone from the football operations department to the coaches, the athletic training staff, the sports science staff to the equipment staff and – since these are the Cowboys – the marketing department.
Bryan Wansley, their director of player development, and Cable Johnson, their director of team security, arrived in Oxnard on July 6 — 20 days before the coaches and players. They established communications with city officials and security. Four days later, Jason McKay, their director of football administration and technology, arrived.
“It’s very barren out here,” McKay said, peering over the two grass fields the cowboys use for practice.
The long grandstands on the sidelines were in place and the field was mowed, but little else indicated that training camp was imminent.
Days become days as the 15.5-acre River Ridge complex is transformed. Ten 53-foot trucks, each weighing 10,000 to 13,000 pounds, arrive on different days, bringing essentials from a 500-pound leg press to wristbands.
One difference from the team’s early stints at Oxnard: The Cowboys no longer have to pack most of their weight room. Since moving to The Star in 2016, the team has used the weights from their former Valley Ranch exercise facility and left them locked up in California for the year. Some treadmills, peloton bikes, and other cardiovascular equipment also arrive by truck. The same goes for the blocking sled and the offensive linemen chute.
Three different levels of fence surround the complex, with the last two separating the football offices and players’ rooms with 24-hour security.
Five tennis courts will be converted into a weight room, beginner’s locker room, media center, and family and VIP viewing area. The Feldhaus is the only permanent building containing 37 lockers and part of the athletic trainers’ offices.
The gear staff has a triple wide trailer filled with everything players need from Frisco. The athletic trainer also has a follower.
In front of the Residence Inn, the Cowboys have four double-wide trailers for the coaches and the scouting and video department. That’s in addition to the hotel’s ballrooms, which serve as meeting space and dining.
“This year the team came on a Monday, so ideally you’re trying to get ready on the Friday before,” McKay said. “You’re dealing with vendors who don’t typically work weekends, so try to take a tour this Friday and say, ‘We’re good and we’re done.’ And then whatever little things come up, they show up and you fix them.”
That summer, the tower in the center of the field where Jones, Boy Scouts or visiting luminaries watch practice had to be repositioned before the first practice because it was crooked.
Another issue was the condition of the fields upon arrival as they are not used much in the other 10+ months of the year. They were too soft and wet. An expert from Brazil who has worked with FIFA for World Cups was flown in to help with the preparations. Each day a twin roller drives back and forth to compact the soil, but there are a number of bumps and dips that can make standing up difficult.
Restoring the fields is a priority for 2023.
“I want us to do the entire footprint of it and clean it all up,” said Todd Williams, vice president of football operations/administration.
The big change for this year is the dining room.
The Cowboys brought their cook from The Star, Andrew Trollinger. He brought three other chefs from Legends Hospitality at SoFi Stadium and LAFC to help prepare the meal. Food quality has also improved, with athletic director Scott Sehnert noting that the produce is unmatched in California.
“Players are used to the food being cooked a certain way, used to the menus, and Andrew is also just getting some of the changes we’re making to some of the recipes that really keep them tasting great, but that too Guys help recover, fuel good for the training we’re going through,” said Sehnert. “You love consistency in everything and as we get across the country, food can be one of those inconsistent parts.”
There’s some consistency in the menu – players can get chicken breasts, a turkey burger, or a hamburger every night if they want – but Sehnert and Trollinger are changing things up, with Sehnert tailoring meals to the type of exercise that can help players develop to recover and recharge your batteries for the next day. There are special days when food trucks come by or a barbecue expert from Los Angeles cooks dinner.
“That contradicts many of the usual eating habits, especially among younger people,” says Sehnert. “They managed to make it through high school and college thanks to great talent and good mentoring, but they might not have had to worry about their diet, sleep and some other aspects, so they tend to learn from some of that.” Guys on their second and third contracts say they are doing everything they can to keep playing at a high level.”
Linebacker Micah Parsons said he eliminated fried food from his diet and lost more than five pounds.
Equipment personnel arrived eight days before camp began. Before they operated out of the triple-wide, they had a narrow portion of the field house with boxes stacked on top of boxes from floor to ceiling.
“Anytime we needed something, we always had six to eight boxes on the one that we needed,” said equipment director Mike McCord, who is in his 34th year with the team.
Laundry is sent to a local supplier, so practice jerseys, shorts, pants, sweats and whatever else a player needs fresh.
“They’re basically taking The Star and trying to take it as far as it is here,” said All-Pro guard Zack Martin, who has been at Oxnard all but one of his nine seasons.
Trainer Mike McCarthy had never been to Oxnard before last year. When he arrived last summer, Williams gave him a tour and McCarthy quickly learned what his predecessors, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett, were doing. It was ideal.
When McCarthy coached the Green Bay Packers, his teams trained at their complex. An assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1990s, he spent camp in River Falls, Wisconsin when five other teams formed what was known as the “Cheese League” for the camp.
“Obviously you’re not on the pitch as much now as you were 25 years ago, so the physical stress at training camp isn’t even close to what it used to be,” McCarthy said. “That may be one reason teams are staying at home more now, but there are pros and cons to everything.
“The fact that you are going away as a group is very valuable. The journey, the time together on the road is a great opportunity to get closer emotionally and spiritually. I believe in all of that.”
McCarthy credited part of the Cowboys’ 6-1 start last season to the time he spent at Oxnard. The cool temperatures allowed for a high “utilization” that would not have taken place with the 100 degree temperatures at home.
Gamers love the weather, with an average high of 75 degrees this August.
“They can still develop the same camaraderie, but we’re in Oxnard compared to Dallas, which is scorching hot,” said safety Jayron Kearse. “I’m pretty sure we’re all happy to be here in Cali now.”
The Cowboys won’t be at Oxnard as long this summer because they trained with the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Chargers, bringing new circumstances for the operations staff.
Some of the trucks will return to Frisco on Thursday, and the demolition process will begin on August 15.
“It’s a lot quicker than putting it up,” McKay said of the demolition.
By August 21, almost everything and everyone will be back in stardom. Training camp will come to an end, but executives will review their Oxnard experience.
“We’ll start tweaking some things or fixing things for next year if things didn’t go the way we wanted,” Williams said.
The Cowboys have a contract with the City of Oxnard through 2024 with an option for 2025. The tradition continues.
“We know it’s a lot of work and I hope young people like it because I love coming here,” Martin said. “…I’m sure you could [replicate it] something at home, but I think there’s something against walking out of the facility and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going for a month and this is a training camp.’ And then when you come back, I think it’s time to start the regular season.”
https://www.espn.com/blog/dallas-cowboys/post/_/id/4775279/how-the-dallas-cowboys-take-training-camp-1500-miles-away-to-california Ten trucks and over 50 tons of equipment: How the Dallas Cowboys take training camp to California – Dallas Cowboys Blog