By Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Litchfield
The halls of the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital were filled with elite high school football players as members of the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl teams visited patients and staff Jan. 1, 2014.
Considered community outreach by the staff, it became much more to the players.
Mason Cole, East Team offensive lineman and senior at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, Fla., never had this sort of experience before. “Coming here was an awesome thing,” Cole said. “Me, myself – and I’m pretty sure everyone else – have never been here or seen anything like this before. Seeing veterans… it really goes to show how much they mean to us, how much they matter, how thankful we are for them.”
Players visited patients in both the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center and the Community Living Center, meeting veterans that spanned many age ranges.
In Johnny’s room, his mother marveled that the players were “so big” and laughed as they tried to play catch with her son.
When thanked, East Team defense lineman Jesse Aniebonam, from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md., simply stated, “We are blessed to be in your presence.”
Players handed out small foam footballs emblazoned with the U.S. Army All-American Bowl logo and personally signed by the players, with each including a personal message ranging anywhere from “thanks for all you do” to “God bless.”
One player, East Team defensive lineman Elisha Shaw of Tucker High School, went above and beyond, creating miniature works of art by drawing pictures or intricate patterns on each of the footballs he delivered.
“This one is for you, I created it especially for you,” he would say as he handed each one to a smiling patient.
Although the patients appeared to be impressed by the players, commenting on their skills, their height, their obvious physical prowess, Zach Schmid, punter for West Team and player from Francis Parker High School in San Diego summed up what several of his teammates were feeling.
“We are able to do what we do because of people like you,” Schmid said.
Cole echoed the sentiment as he explained what it meant to be chosen as a U.S. Army All-American. “It means a lot to me. It’s the reason that I chose to come to this one (instead of other bowl options), I want to play in the bowl supported by the men and women that protect this country," he said.
The 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl is scheduled to take place at the Alamodome Jan. 4, 2014.
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