For an hour Tuesday morning, 50 military members from across Virginia hit the field for a boot camp. But this one, held at the Washington Redskins’ training camp, was different. Its five obstacles: a 40-yard dash, a three-cone shuttle, a vertical jump, a wide receiver gauntlet and a quarterback arm challenge.
With VIP tickets to a Washington home game up for grabs, the competition was stiff at the USAA’s Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp, as members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard split into teams of five and worked through various drills.
As he stood at midfield and watched the boot camp from under a floppy sun hat, Ronney Wright, a USAA senior military affairs representative, called it a “day of giving back.” The event has been around since 2011, and it’s the fifth year the Redskins have hosted.
“Really, it’s all about seeing them together,” he said. “As a military leader, it’s all about your people. If they’re smiling, and we’re able to give back, that’s what makes my day.”
USAA bused participants in from all over the state, including some from Fort Eustis, Langley Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Oceana. A last-second mission kept local Marines from attending. Each member brought one guest, too.
Just before 11 a.m., Wright addressed the group, clad in matching burgundy athletic T-shirts, in the end zone. He then turned it over to Rod Huber. Huber spent three decades as a college football coach, including 17 as head coach at Division III Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. He’s also an Army veteran. The latter, he’ll tell you, defines him far more than the former.
“My best coaching tricks that I coached with for 30 years, I learned in the Army: the organization, the administration, the motivation,” he said. “All the things that go with being a soldier, I took right into the locker room, and that’s how I ran my team.”
Huber directed things in an energetic, Jon Gruden-esque manner, and boot camp moved quickly. At each station, organizers recorded scores on clipboards. These camps have seen their fair share of impressive moments, and Wright is quick to note that plenty of the military members on site are former high school and college athletes.
The longest throw Tuesday was 54 yards, and the fastest 40-yard dash time was 4.70 seconds. That didn’t beat the best time Huber has seen, though: a 4.50 by someone at a Denver Broncos camp last year.
"It was legit,” he said. “We did it twice. That’s NFL time.”
After an hour of catches, cuts and throws in the summer heat, participants ducked into a nearby tent for a catered lunch of turkey and chicken wraps while USAA tallied the final scores. Team 9, a group of soldiers from Fort Eustis, ended up winning. Dvorak Crocker, one of the winners, said the entire day was a welcome break.
“It’s great,” the 22-year-old said. “Just like I told someone earlier, we don’t get a lot of time during the weekdays. Monday through Friday, we work all day. … For us to be out here all day, enjoying this and USAA giving us this opportunity, it’s just awesome."
Later in the day, the 50 boot campers watched a Redskins practice and met with a few players, including quarterback Case Keenum, tight end Vernon Davis and cornerback Josh Norman, for autographs. Wright said, in his experience, there’s a “serious bond” between NFL players and military members.
Huber agreed. He worked six USAA camps last year, and he has five more on his docket this summer. He said there's been a common trend, and he echoed it in his closing remarks to the 50 service members Tuesday afternoon.
"Wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing, here’s what you need to know,” he said. “I’m around these NFL guys every day, all year long. They appreciate you. Any NFL player I’ve worked with, done an event with, you’re the hero.”
This article was originally published by The Virginian-Pilot, August 10, 2019.