Photos from the 2015 Black and Gold Scrimmage at The Greenbrier in White Sulpher Springs, WV. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)
White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. - As the New Orleans Saints start their preparations for the 2015 season, the training camp at The Greenbrier brings together a wide spectrum of veterans, newcomers and rookies.
For some it's just the start of another season in a long NFL career, for others it's the start of a new journey and for those rookies battling for a spot on the roster it could be the start of their professional careers.
We recently sat down with four players, all at different stages in their NFL lives, to gain insight into their training camp experiences.
For two-time Super Bowl champion Brandon Browner, a defensive back who joined the Saints this past spring as an unrestricted free agent, walking into The Greenbrier hotel lobby signaled a new chapter in an already decorated career.
"It's the start, the beginning," Browner said.
Right tackle Zach Strief, one of five players left from the 2009 Super Bowl winning team, shared his thoughts on how the atmosphere at The Greenbrier makes him feel as if he is living in another age.
"You feel like you are stepping back to another era, which I really appreciate," Strief said. "I love history and I love old things. It really is a time warp, everything about it: the dress code, the way people treat you, and the decorations."
Coming to West Virginia with different backgrounds makes training camp an individual experience for each player. For 2015 first round draft pick Stephone Anthony, the experience has been a change from his Clemson football days.
"I think the work load is a lot more than college," Anthony said. "But college is a constant grind every day. I love the fact that we get days off."
For kicker Zach Hocker, in his first season with the Saints, this is not his first time to experience training camp far away and in a comfortable environment.
"I know this year for me is very similar to last year when I was at the Redskins," Hocker said. "We went to Richmond, Va., and stayed in a hotel and had a brand-new built facility that was specifically for the team."
When thinking of the remote hills of West Virginia, thoughts of an NFL training camp may not come to mind. For the Saints, traveling to the wild and wonderful state has other perks apart from the beautiful scenery; it is a getaway. Anthony, Hocker, Browner and Strief agreed that the benefits are worth the distance from New Orleans.
"There is always distractions at home," Strief said. "Even if they are positive distractions: families, kids, people in the city that want to come to practice. Getting away allows us to focus just on football."
Hocker, who is locked in a battle with fellow kicker Dustin Hopkins, knows that with a NFL job on the line traveling away for training camp helps him concentrate.
"It helps me as far as focus, getting away from everything, having one goal in mind, and that's to make the team," Hocker said. "If you are back in New Orleans you get comfortable; this (traveling for training camp) keeps you on your toes."
An additional comfort for the players in West Virginia is the weather. The escape from the intense humidity and heat of a Louisiana summer allows for the players to perform at their best. The milder climate is ideal for the intense practices that are typical during the month-long NFL preseason.
"It doesn't get much better than that," Anthony said of the weather conditions.
"I can't imagine being down there in New Orleans right now at this time," Browner said, laughing. "We have been running our butts off and the humidity probably would have got half the team."
Whether it was golfing with teammates, lounging by the pool, getting a massage or simply enjoying the day of rest alone, each player has found his own way to detach and get away from the football field. With all the amenities The Greenbrier has to offer some prefer the comfort and solitude of an afternoon at the movies. The players don't have to venture far to catch the latest feature films Hollywood has to offer.
"They had SpongeBob playing," Browner said quietly. "But don't tell anyone!"