The USS Essex in San Diego Bay. Navy photo
The USS Essex in San Diego Bay. Navy photo

The crew of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex hosted a luncheon for the USC Trojans and Nebraska Cornhuskers prior to Saturday’s National University Holiday Bowl Game.

The event began with a Battle of the Bands on the pier, which included both teams’ marching bands, cheerleaders and dancers. Inside the ship’s hangar bay, more than 1,000 football players, coaches, Sailors, Marines and team supporters honored the two teams by presenting multiple awards to both team coaches and players.

Two Essex Sailors were also named as honorary team captains: Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Keith Albracht for the Cornhuskers and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Gabriel Valdez for the Trojans. Fire Controlman 3rd Class Jermey Wallace sang the national anthem.

Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden presented the Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp trophy to an extraordinary player from both teams. The award honors the memory of Sharp’s 45-year Navy career and is presented to players that display unselfish commitment, motivation and teamwork that ultimately leads to the team’s overall success.

“We put on equipment, you put on your equipment; however, the thing that makes the Navy and Marine Corps team great and the thing that makes your team great is not the equipment,” Rowden said. “It is the heart and soul of our Navy and Marine team of this ship and the heart and soul of each and every one of you on your team.”

This year marks the 34th year of the presentation of the Adm. Sharp trophy.

The Holiday Bowl committee presented 100 tickets to Saturday’s game for the 100 Sailors and Marines in attendance as a show of their appreciation to the Navy and Marine Corps all-volunteer service.

USS Essex Commanding Officer, Capt. Pete Mantz, personally thanked each coach for the opportunity to host the luncheon and for the Essex Sailors and Marines to meet players and coaches.

“We’re honored to have the teams onboard,” said Mantz. “As much as both college teams are high-caliber, high-performance teams, the Navy and Marine Corps team is just as impressive in their pursuit for excellence.”

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.