New coach Sean McDermott brings Pegula Sports and Entertainment DJs to training camp to set the tone with tunes.
Having missed the NFL playoffs 17 consecutive seasons, the Buffalo Bills are hopeful they will soon start singing a different tune.
In the meantime, a lot of tunes are being played.
Yes, the hills at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford are alive with the sound of music. But we’re not talking Julie Andrews.
More like Bob Marley, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Michael Jackson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joan Jett, Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks, all part of Bills training camp festivities, courtesy of digital technology and a sideline sound system worthy of a Woodstock revival.
Players running to reggae, hustling to hip-hop, cooling down with country.
Music at Bills camp isn’t new, of course.
What is are professional disc jockeys spinning tunes that are choreographed to what the players and coaches are working on. “Mood’’ music to get the most out of every drill, every play and every day. Setting the tone with tunes. Hitting to the hits.
New coach Sean McDermott, 43, solidified his reputation for paying attention to the tiniest details and for thinking of everything when he asked DJs Amilcar Hill and Yusef Jackson to come work training camp after they passed a “tryout’’ during spring mini-camp with rave reviews.
“It’s been great having them at practice and around campus,’’ McDermott said. “The players appreciate it, I appreciate it, it adds a bit of motivation each and every day which is great.’’
Hill and Jackson, two 30-somethings from Buffalo, are better known as “DJ Milk’’ and “DJ Yes,’’ respectively. Their engaging personalities and collection of hundreds of songs covering every genre – rock, soul, hip-hop, house, country, dance hall, reggae, salsa – could get a room full of accountants dancing.
In addition to working clubs, parties and concerts, DJ Milk and DJ Yes, who are big sports fans, were already doing gigs for Pegula Sports and Entertainment for their three Buffalo franchises: the Bills, Sabres and Bandits.
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While performing at a business function at club 716 Food and Sport at the Harbor Center in Buffalo, they met McDermott. Two days later they were at mini-camp.
“We hit it off the first time we met because he’s really a music guy,’’ DJ Yes said. “We met his wife and she said, ‘You really need to talk to Sean, he really loves music.’ Coach likes all this energy at practice and we were like ‘Yo, you give us this opportunity and we’re going to make it happen.’ ’’
Said McDermott: “When you hear good music and you see that someone is good at what they do, like those two are, I got to striking up a relationship with them. They’re very approachable and they understand the big picture of what we’re trying to get done as well.’’
McDermott is a Philadelphia guy who has been known to listen to the theme from Rocky when he lifts weights. What is it about music that soothes the savage beast in each of us – or brings it out?
“I don’t know, I guess it’ s a human part of music and it’s just fun,’’ said McDermott who as a champion wrestler got through many a grueling workout with music playing. “You need motivation, whether it’s a song, a saying, a quote, a Bible verse, we all need a bit of motivation every day and training camp gets tiring at times.’’
Acclimating players to the sounds and distractions of game day is another reason many NFL coaches agree to blaring music in practice. When the music is cut off, players are expected to keep their energy at a high level as well.
“There are a lot of reasons for it,’’ McDermott said.
Reasons that DJ Milk and DJ Yes are tuned in to, with Bob Schatz, the Bills assistant director of stadium operations, playing quarterback, alerting them when one phase of practice is ending and another is beginning.
“Bob says, ‘If nobody is coming over and saying anything, that’s a good thing.’ It means we’re doing our job,’ ” DJ Yes said. “And believe me, coach is listening. He’s a big detail guy and we try to be detailed as well.’’
During a light moment at mini-camp, McDermott approached the disc jockeys and good-naturedly chewed the men out.
“It was great, he let us know he was listening,’’ said DJ Milk, who with DJ Yes also work University of Buffalo basketball games. “He said, ‘You guys did a good job but that’s all you got? Can’t you give us a little more? I expect you to step it up.’ “
During practices, Hill and Jackson can be seen dance stepping to their work. They’ll even do a bit of “scratching,’’ manipulating a turntable to elicit unique sounds. After practice they can be found spinning songs for fans’ enjoyment in the interactive game area.
The evolution of training camp from military boot camp to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand hasn’t been lost on 11-year veteran Lorenzo Alexander.
“It’s definitely changed since I’ve gotten in the league,’’ Alexander, 34, said. “This was probably the furthest thing from a coach’s mind, having a DJ out there creating a mood and environment to get you hyped. You kind of had to do that yourself.
“But hey, it’ s a sign of good coaching and changing with the times. You have to kind of cater to your players to a certain point with this new generation, that’s what they like hearing, the music and get grooving. There’s music all over the place. I don’t think it’ s a bad thing.’’
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who must communicate to his teammates through deafening crowd noise during games, said that when he’s on the field taking repetitions at St. John Fisher he really doesn’t hear the music. It’s only when he’s sitting out a rep that he might bob his head to a beat.
“I guess that’s just the noise-cancellation in me,’’ he said. “When I’m out there on the field, it’s something like being out in the stadium, you don’t actually hear the noise. But I think it keeps the quiet parts of practice fun. Some guys like the music more than others but I think the DJ and coach do a good job of keeping everybody happy as far as the music.’’
Some players have even been observed putting in their requests.
DJ Milk, a media personality in Buffalo who appears on the Arts 2 Entertainment show on WGRZ, said working sporting events has raised his celebrity status and it’s only going to grow.
He and DJ Yes, who last season could be heard outside Gates 6 and 7 at New Era Field, will be moving to the 50-yard line for pre-game entertainment inside the stadium this fall. Their mission is to get people to enter the stadium sooner and avoid the last-minute crush.
After performing at weddings, dances, private parties and special events, where does being the “Bills official disc jockeys’’ rank?
“LTD,’’ DJ Yes said. “LTD.’’
That would be: Living the dream.