A Navy team from the USS Essex outpointed a Marine Corps Recruit Depot squad Wednesday morning for bragging rights at the annual NFL “Boot Camp” at the Miramar Marine air station.
But bagging rights were a bigger draw — as in bag autographs of Phil Rivers, Antonio Gates and other Chargers stars.
Among the Bolts was top draft pick Joe Bosa, making one of his first local appearances. The former Ohio State star ended his holdout Monday when he signed a four-year contract. The defensive end was among those staying the longest Wednesday to meet the fans.
“It’s great, every year, to come out,” Rivers said of his 12th season practicing in front of the troops. “It’s a small token of appreciation for (service) men and women. … They’re some of our biggest fans. … It’s always a day we look forward to.”
The Miramar Sports Complex Field saw five-member teams from the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard take part in a series of NFL-style drills and skills. About 50 competed — all getting free admission to Thursday’s 49ers game at Qualcomm Stadium.
(The USS Essex unit also won tickets to a Military Appreciation Night game in November at the Q.)
Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Brown of the Navy said he was a defensive end at his Texas high school and expected to do well at the power drills, such as a weighted sled push. “Anything that requires strength I’m good at. A little slow in the sprints.”
But he really looked forward to meeting what he called future Hall of Famers — Rivers, Gates and perhaps others.
“We all brought our balls out (for signing),” Brown said. “My wife went down to (Qualcomm) to get a nice ball for autographs.”
Marine Sgt. Michael Rivas — a high school quarterback in Maryland — looked forward to the throwing and catching drill.
“Doesn’t quite compare (to boot camp),” he said with a laugh.
The same for Navy’s Onesimus Campbell, who played high school ball in South Carolina but also on a Japanese base, said: “Boot camp was kind of easy. This will be kind of easier.”
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Ellen Motoi called the event a great time to interact with new shipmates, and Army Sgt. 1st Class Joy Shrestha said her team needed a woman. “Only two females in the building, and we’re here today,” she said.
Emilee Forrester of the Naval Base San Diego-ported USS Essex recently arrived after basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes, the boot camp in Illinois. She said it was “very awesome” to mix with the large contingent of Chargers.
But playing football was old hat. She did powder puff games at her Alabama high school, “a big football town. …. I’ve been around this before. It’ll be a great experience.”
The event was co-sponsored by USAA, the Texas-based financial services company that caters to military.
USAA spokesman Matt Hartwig said it was “great to be out of the office with the men and women who protect us.”
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