EL PASO, Texas – A Bradley fighting vehicle is a cramped workspace for a soldier of average size.
Yet somehow the Washington State offensive line was able to get inside and operate the troop carrier during the Cougars’ Wednesday tour of El Paso’s Fort Bliss, which is the largest installation in the army covering 1.12 million acres.
“It was tight. It was really cool,” offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund said. “We got to move the turret around, which is a lot harder than you think it would be. It’s amazing. We just play football. That’s what we do and we think man, it’s tough working out. These guys are out here putting their lives on the line every day.”
The players spent about three hours driving tank and other vehicle simulators, fighting off virtual combatants and even firing live ammunition before having dinner with the troops. After dinner, the players and troops were put under a hypnotist’s spell for the entertainment of their fellow athletes and soldiers.
Somewhat surprisingly, all of the players from 5-foot-6, 177-pound Alijah Lee to 6-8, 346-pound Cody O’Connell were able to fit inside the tight troop carriers. Although deputy commanding general Jeffery D. Broadwater did quip, “I’d probably want the kicker in there with me.”
Broadwater explained that the army likes to partner with the Sun Bowl so that the players can see what life in the military is like and so that both athletes and soldiers can interact with a different sort of team.
“I think the biggest thing they’ll get out of this is to talk to some great heroes in there, and their experiences from all over the service and what they do for our country on a daily basis,” Broadwater said.
Many of the players remarked that they were struck by the youth of the soldiers – Eklund noted that at 22 years old, he is two years older than the soldier assigned to his group.
For David Bucannon and John Thompson, Wednesday’s visit to Fort Bliss was an opportunity to share a piece of their worlds with their teammates. Both players come from military families and had both parents either serve in the armed forces or work on military bases.
“It’s life-changing. It’s a blessed opportunity to come down here and take pictures,” Thompson said. “It’s great I get to see a little bit of what my parents and my grandparents went through. It’s a very humbling experience.”
Athletic Miami concerns WSU
The Cougars face an opponent that may be similar to what they’ve already seen, but will nonetheless be difficult to stop. That’s because athleticism can always beat you, even when you know it’s coming.
The WSU players and coaches have compared the Hurricanes offense to California’s and its defense to that of UCLA. But “The U” is one of the most recognized brands in college football and UM has always been able to recruit.
According to Scout.com, the Hurricanes’ recruiting class finished No. 9 in 2012 and No. 11 in 2013, giving the UM a roster loaded with fast, athletic players.
’Canes play for coach Scott
Miami interim coach Larry Scott may not know what his future holds, but his players want to send him out on a high note. After Al Golden was dismissed as UM’s head coach, Scott guided the Hurricanes to a 4-1 record in their final games, setting up Saturday’s Sun Bowl matchup with the Cougars.
But the UM has already hired former Georgia coach Mark Richt to take over leadership of the program next season, leaving Scott in an uncertain position.
“He’s done just an awesome job in keeping us together and just keeping the foundation that Coach Golden laid down for us,” quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “He’s been great in keeping the morale going and not letting guys break off. We just want to finish strong for him and all the other coaches.”
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