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Before the football started – before the hordes of fans funneled in through the gates and embraced the mid-morning heat – 50 local military members were already working up a sweat.
Though, to be fair, it was still hot around 8 a.m., but energy at dawn is usually not an issue for those in active duty, and that proved to be true during an NFL Combine-style event at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center.
To be more precise, the setup, which included several stations, was located behind the main football fields overlooking the entire facility, a backdrop for mental preparation (and inspiration) for when they would take in the Redskins' walkthrough and later ask for autographs and pose for photos with quarterback RObert Griffin III and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
"When you put it in your memory bank and say I went to Redskins training camp, look at all the memories they're building," said USAA Military Affairs Coordinator Ronney Wright. "I did the NFL combine and when they turn on the TV and see the NFL combine, it's like, 'I know what that person's thinking, I know what that person's going through.'"
Those participating, thanks to a partnership with USAA, represented all four branches of the military – a good portion had just recently deployed – and came from Oceana Naval Air Station and Langley, a bus drive away for many to see their favorite team. But there was still some competition before any of that.
The group broke up into rotating stations, which included the 40 yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump and shuttle, assessed by some coaches who had played at various levels of football.
"I'm having a good time just watching them," Wright said. "We saw this guy just run a 4.6, the Redskins are going to be looking at him [joking]. It's like anything, we're a cross section of America, you've all kinds of skills and things that people do."
For Wright, a Navy veteran of 31 years, watching these members, many of them in their 20s, inspires him and makes these experiences indelible.
"Service members love football, male female, parents kids, everybody loves football," Wright said. "For me it's a unique experience and come aboard and give back. I'm always looking for younger folks to come to events like this because I know it's going to stay with them for a long time and they're going to spread the word."