Alex Bachman leaned against the entryway of the Los Angeles Rams’ makeshift training room at Cal Lutheran University on June 3.
The Oaks Christian High graduate and recently signed Ram had just received treatment on a nagging hamstring injury. The wide receiver watched his teammates from afar before making his way out onto the field, shoes in his hands.
Bachman, a product of Wake Forest University, slipped into his cleats and settled in between fellow receivers KhaDarel Hodge and JoJo Natson to listen to the play calls and watch the action unfold.
“I’m just trying to take mental reps,” said Bachman, a Westlake resident who has been nursing a tender hamstring since May 30. “The more reps, the better.”
While he was limited to visualizing his routes, Bachman is determined to make the most of his time with the defending NFC champs. He signed with the team in April as an undrafted free agent, a longshot to make the final 53-man roster given the squad’s depth at wide receiver.
“Even after practice, I go through the scripts and visualize breaking the huddle and where I’d line up,” Bachman said.
The 6-foot, 190-pound receiver, who caught 82 passes for 1,162 yards and 10 touchdowns in his college career, stayed after practice to catch balls from the Jugs machine.
He was one of only six players to remain on the field after practice ended. Eric Weddle, an NFL veteran entering his 13th season and first with the Rams, was another pro putting in extra work.
“I’m just learning from the older guys and how they carry themselves and attack each day,” Bachman said.
The 23-year-old Bachman is the latest of a handful of Acorn country natives to earn an opportunity with the Rams, who have called the Conejo Valley home since the team moved back to the Golden State in 2016.
Westlake High alumnus Nelson Spruce and former CLU and Oak Park High star Aaron Lacombe have also spent time with the Rams at their temporary in-season home, a 53,000-square-foot facility on the north side of the Thousand Oaks campus built in under four months.
The hillside complex consists of two fields and 75 trailers, which house offices, meeting rooms, locker rooms, an equipment room, a rehabilitation area and a weight room.
By comparison, the Dallas Cowboys practice during the season in a “mini-city” built outside Frisco, Texas. The 91-acre complex includes the Cowboys’ headquarters, a 12,000-seat event center, a 300-room hotel and a cluster of shops and restaurants.
Drivers cruising along Campus Drive wouldn’t notice the small, dirt parking lot leading to the Rams’ nondescript facility.
“Obviously, other places are more established,” said Weddle, a former San Diego Charger and Baltimore Raven. “It’s more intimate here, just the football staff, the coaches and trainers.
“It’s no problem for me. I’ll work out in the dirt if I have to.”
Clay Matthews, an Agoura graduate who played linebacker at USC before winning a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2011, smiled when asked to compare the training grounds to the indoor and outdoor facilities he grew accustomed to the past decade in Wisconsin.
“It’s definitely different, that’s for certain,” Matthews said. “I know they’re looking for land in which they can put the newest, baddest and latest facility, but we have everything we need. It’s worked for teams in the past, and it allowed them to get to the Super Bowl last year.”
Los Angeles competed in Super Bowl LIII in February, falling to the New England Patriots, 13-3. The spartan practice facility did not impede the Rams en route to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. These Rams have gone 24-8 since head coach Sean McVay took over in 2017.
“At the end of the day, if you’ve got fields and all the necessary equipment, you’ll be fine,” said John Wolford, a first-year Rams quarterback who played with Bachman at Wake Forest.
Cal Lutheran has benefited from a pro football squad calling the college campus home.
“We’ve really developed a partnership and a friendship that is pretty strong,” said CLU football head coach Ben McEnroe, who is entering his 13th season at the helm.
The NFL team’s contributed signed helmets and footballs for CLU’s fundraising auctions, and the Kingsmen help accommodate the Rams when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The school’s opened the Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center for the pros when conditions were too wet out, and it’s not uncommon for the Rams players to train on the field at William Rolland Stadium during the off-season.
Having Rams catch touchdown passes in the purple and gold end zone certainly doesn’t hurt recruiting efforts.
“We have recruits on campus. They’re able to look down on the field and see the (Rams) down there working out,” McEnroe said.
The coach said a CLU recruit once bumped into Todd Gurley at a nearby gas station.
Visible from the Kingsmen practice field, the Rams facility provides a valuable reminder for college athletes to work hard to achieve their dreams, said CLU athletics director Dan Kuntz.
“You just look up the hill and there’s your aspiration,” Kuntz said.
Lacombe, who signed with the Rams in 2018 after impressing coaches at a regional workout on campus, agrees that having a pro team so close to home provides extra motivation to young players.
“You never know which coach might come down on a Saturday night and watch a game,” Lacombe said.
The benefits extend beyond the playing field.
Malik Cyphers, a former Oaks Christian cornerback who played at Portland State, works in the Rams’ public relations department.
Multiple Cal Lutheran students have worked as Rams interns in recent years, including former football linemen Kevin Blank and DeJon Rothschild, who worked in the Rams’ equipment room. Matt Kubly, who patrolled the offensive line for CLU, is a Rams’ video assistant. Kubly often tapes practices from atop a scissor lift.
“He’s up top filming all the time,” McEnroe said of Kubly.
While the school’s enjoyed having the Rams on campus, the team will eventually settle on a permanent home, leaving behind a facility that was never supposed to last forever.
“I don’t know what will happen to all those things up there,” Kuntz said.
McEnroe made it clear that he has no interest in moving the football program into those trailers.
“Those are definitely temporary buildings,” McEnroe said. “They’re held together with bailing wire and duct tape. It’s only going to get worse.”
The pristine grass is another matter.
“We’d take those (fields) very happily,” McEnroe said, noting there’s space for numerous teams to use. “You don’t see a field like that outside of the Rose Bowl. It’s like being on a putting green.”
Until they find permanent quarters, the Rams will continue with business as usual, working for a return to the Super Bowl.
Bachman said he’s hoping his hamstring heals up in time for training camp in July so he can make a push for one of the Rams’ roster spots.
As long as he’s getting looks on the gridiron, he’s indifferent about the appearance of the facility.
“They have everything here I could possibly need,” Bachman said.
Los Angeles Rams with local ties:
• Clay Matthews, LB, Agoura High
• Alex Bachman, WR, Oaks Christian
• Johnny Hekker, P, Thousand Oaks resident
• Malik Cyphers, public relations media, Oaks Christian
• Kevin Blank, equipment room, Cal Lutheran
• DeJon Rothschild, equipment room, Cal Lutheran
• Matt Kubly, video assistant, Cal Lutheran