The idea of watching active-duty Soldiers play in Doughboy Stadium has been in John Hargrove’s mind for a long time. The Doughboy Classic, a football game between the Columbus State University Club team and a team comprised of 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Soldiers, is a dream come true, Hargrove said.
“When I was 12 or 13 years old, my father brought me to Doughboy Stadium to watch the Benning post team play the Quantico Marines,” he said. “The Benning team won the game 6-0. I was thrilled, but my father was crushed.”
Hargrove said the experience left a lasting impression that stayed with him when he returned to Columbus as the owner of the Columbus Lions, the local indoor football team.
“There is a great football tradition at Doughboy Stadium,” he said. “Years ago, many southerners considered service football to be the best football. This stadium was packed back then. People came from miles around to watch the Benning team play the other services and colleges. I wanted to see that tradition brought back.”
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Built in 1923, Doughboy Stadium was one of the main playing venues for college football and armed service football teams. In the 20s and 30s, the universities of Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia traveled to Fort Benning to play the post team.
With that thought in mind, Hargrove broached the idea of sponsoring a football team comprised of 3rd HBCT Soldiers with COL Pete Jones, the brigade’s commander, before the unit left for its fourth deployment to Iraq.
“We talked about the qualities that made his unit successful: teamwork, having a goal and working towards it, dedication and discipline,” Hargrove said. “I told him that wasn’t much different than how a football team works and it went from there. It has served as a motivational tool for his Soldiers on their deployment.”
Hargrove and his organization agreed to help supply the 3rd HBCT with equipment and coaching. The 3rd HBCT had to provide motivated players. In early August, the players that made it through team tryouts in 120-degree heat at Contingency Operating Site Kalsu returned to Fort Benning to prepare for their Oct. 28 game against Columbus State University.
“The players discipline has made them so easy to coach,” said Gerald Gales, a receiver for the Lions and a volunteer coach. “It was one of the first things I noticed when I started coaching them. Their ability to focus is one of the things I’m going to carry back my team. It makes it much easier to get things accomplished when players don’t need to be told to do things twice.”
Despite working with players who haven’t played competitive football in years, Hargrove, head coach of the Columbus Lions and 3rd HBCT team, said he has had an enjoyable time preparing them for their one and only game.
“It has been one of the best experiences of my life,’ he said. “These players want to be here and it has really opened my eyes to what I love about football. In my job, I have to deal with agents and players complaining about one thing or another. I don’t have those issues with these guys. They do everything full speed. To watch them enjoy what they are doing makes me want to be here even more.”
Hargrove said the warrior ethos displayed by the 3rd HBCT players is a great credit to the Army and has given him a deeper appreciation about the type of people that are members of the Army.
“The organization of the Army really translates well into a good football team,” he said. “The chain of command, the form and discipline, the repetition, the attention to detail I think a lot of that has been lost in today’s football. It has been refreshing to see it again. It really took me back to when I was in high school and the game was pure. I love coaching these guys.”
As game day draws closer, Hargrove said he hopes the game captures the quality of what made past games at Doughboy Stadium special.
“This is a good chance for the Fort Benning community, the Columbus State University community and the greater Columbus community to intersect and come together for a special event,” he said. “This game is wonderful way for Columbus to show its support our military here, a community that gives so much to this city and our country. I think it will be a night for everyone to come together.”