The Soldiers picked to represent the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in the Doughboy Classic have spent months looking forward to Thursday.
More than 120 volunteers braved 120-degree weather to try out for the team at Contingency Operating Site Kalsu, Iraq. Forty of them will be allowed to dress out for the game against Columbus State University.
“It was hot and there was a lot of dust, but it brought us closer together,” said Brannon Cochkerham, a cornerback assigned to Headquarters Troop, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “Really, just being out in Iraq together built a lot of camaraderie. The football team was something we could focus on and when we came out of there we all felt like brothers.”
Left tackle Hung Thanh Wagner, who is assigned to Headquarters Company, BSTB, said the team left Iraq and returned to Fort Benning at the beginning of August ready to improve and get better.
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Jason Gibson, coach of the Columbus Lions, said he was eager to see what he would be coaching and pushed his players to see what they were made of.
“Coming straight from Iraq, it was tough,” said Josh Matthews, a middle linebacker assigned to HHC, BSTB. “We were in shape, but not in football shape.”
As Gibson saw his teamwork, he identified who would be playing which positions and began implementing his playbook and system in practice, he said.
“It was so well-organized that it made the transition from combat to football easy,” Matthews said. “When you think about it, football is just another a type of combat with objectives and assignments. I think that made it easier for us understand.”
As the Soldiers memorized the playbook and began to execute the plays and schemes more fluidly, Gibson watched them come together. As he became more comfortable with his new team, he said he began to add more and more to their playbooks.
“He built us up step-by-step,” Wagner said. “He brought a professional attitude and it rubbed off on us. I think because a lot of us worked with each other in Iraq, a lot of the teamwork we had developed made gelling easier. I never felt lost or overwhelmed. We didn’t have a hard time picking up everything.”
As their one and only game of the season approaches, Tim Smith, a quarterback assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Bn., 69th Armor Regiment, said he and his teammates are becoming more and more focused on what they need to do.
“Everyone is excited about the game, but no one wants to see this experience end,” he said. “We were ready for this two months ago. I think we all have been thinking about getting out there and beating some tail. Every practice, our guys have been getting after it with one goal in min — beating Columbus State.”
Smith said this game is more than winning or losing.
“We have been working very hard and are extremely motivated to represent Third Brigade,” he said. “All the blood, sweat, pain, bumps and bruises will be worth it if we can go out there and be perfect in every aspect of the game. We may not achieve that, but that is the goal. This team is in sync and we are all one heartbeat. Now, we just want the opportunity to show what we can do and make our unit proud.”