Concordia offers change of pace

By TODD ROSIAK
trosiak@journalsentinel.com


Mequon - If first impressions count for anything, the St. Louis Rams are going to be awfully happy with their new training camp home at Concordia University Wisconsin.

Led onto campus by a police escort and greeted by a postcard-worthy view of Lake Michigan, the team and its traveling party checked into their headquarters at brand-new Coburg Hall late Thursday afternoon in advance of their first practice of the 2008 season, which is scheduled for 4:20 p.m. today.

The team's arrival was the culmination of a more than three-monthlong campaign by Concordia to land the Rams, who were also being courted by UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Whitewater and Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill.

"There were a number of places we considered, and most everybody did a nice job presenting their facilities," said coach Scott Linehan, entering his third season in St. Louis after going 3-13 in 2007. "But there was just something about this place, from their administration to all the people that work for the university, that made us feel welcome right from the get-go.

"I think they knew going into it they were kind of getting into it on the tail end of it initially. But after we did our research and were able to take a look around and see what they had, obviously you can see there's some great people here and a great setting, beautiful on the lake.

"It's very nice, and I know our players will enjoy working here."

Linehan, who was seeing Concordia in person for the first time himself, said the Rams initially were leaning toward training at UW-LaCrosse, which hosted the New Orleans Saints from 1988-'99. But ongoing construction at the school forced the team to consider other possibilities, and eventually Concordia won out.

Concordia is the 15th training-camp site for the Rams. Their team practice facility, the Russell Training Center in Earth City, Mo., served as home the previous two summers, and for the eight years before that it was Western Illinois.

Although the trend in recent years has been for NFL teams to move their training-camp sites as close to home as possible, Linehan said he was looking for a way to freshen the team's surroundings and approach.

"It just seemed like it was the same old, same old," he said. "There's really no break for the players from the off-season program, OTAs - I'm just talking about the change in environment. I put a lot of thought into doing some things different, anyway, and just really felt like the environment of a training camp, you can't create that when you're doing that at your facility.

"I guess there's pluses and minuses for both, and reasons for both, but in this case it just felt like it was the right thing to do."

The blue skies and cool breezes were also part of the equation for Linehan and the Rams, who had battled sweltering heat and humidity the past two summers.

"I've actually been watching the weather every day here just to see what it's like," he said. "It's been consistently 10 to 15 degrees, at times, cooler than the Midwest. This time of year, if you're going to find the one negative of living in St. Louis . . . it would be training camp in that swelter. That's hard; we have to manage our schedule so much."

In addition to former University of Wisconsin players Donovan Raiola and Brandon Williams, the Rams also have some state ties in the form of wide receiver/returner Derek Stanley, a Verona native who played collegiately at UW-Whitewater.

Stanley already looked the part on Thursday, sporting the Milwaukee Brewers' royal blue retro cap and recounting his having caught in person all three of the team's victories over the St. Louis Cardinals at the new Busch Stadium earlier in the week.

"It's good being home," said Stanley, who averaged 25.5 yards on 20 kickoff returns last season. "The majority of my family's from Milwaukee, obviously Madison's close and all my friends in Whitewater can still come and watch practice.

"It'll be fun."