FORT HOOD — The Knights football team returned to Fort Hood this week in preparation for the upcoming spring football season with some help and motivation from the U.S. Army.

The Harker Heights Recruiting Center and III Corps held the first ever High School Varsity Football Team Army Boot Camp Competition on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it happens anywhere else in the country where a high school team can come out to a military base and get the experience from a boot camp perspective,” said Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards.

This spring marks the third time the military installation has invited the high school football program to participate in the simulated basic training event.

“I did this last year,” said Heights junior wide receiver Ethan Hanks. “It’s kind of different because last year it was just Harker Heights and this year it’s more of a competition because Killeen is here as well.

“But it’s a really fun.”

The day was simulated to be similar to that of the first days of basic training in the Army and began from the moment the buses rolled onto Sadowski Field as the athletes were greeted by drill sergeants.

The city of Harker Heights was represented at the event by Mayor Spencer Smith.

The Knights provided the mayor with an honorary jersey as he stood at attention with the team. Smith also participated in a short skit that included being yelled at by the drill sergeants.

The Knights went head to head with the Roos in an Army obstacle course and received points based on team and individual performances.

While the event was a competition, the experience also aimed to bond the teams together as a unit, similar to that of military platoons.

“It’s great because it shows us how hard soldiers work to fight for our country,” said Heights junior offensive guard Lelei Tuitasi. “While we learned about working with each other, fighting for each other and to be there for one another.”

The added element of battling against a rival intra-district team added extra motivation for the Knights.

“Everything we do in sports and athletics is a competition,” Edwards noted. “So I think it’s going to build camaraderie within these two football teams and I think it’s a little motivating to go a little extra harder and have fun.”

The Knights arrived ready to leave it all on the field, but Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, addressed the teams before the competition started.

“This is what going pro looks like,” Funk said, addressing the athletes as he would soldiers in basic training. “This is about life and death.

“This is about being a part of something bigger than yourselves.

“This is about being committed to the greatest nation on Earth.”

The command general continued to inspire the Knights and Roos in a similar fashion he would soldiers as he noted, “What you’re doing on these fields is representing: Representing your school, your nation, your cities, your towns, but most importantly you’re building partnerships with one another.

“Because you joined this team, this organization, it’s stronger together than it is apart. It will in fact build a legacy— make it a winning one, make it one about commitment to each other, encouraging one another. Be part of something bigger than yourselves.”

Harker Heights athletics honors the military and those who have served throughout the year with various military appreciation games and in return are grateful for this opportunity provided from III Corps.

“Our community is intertwined with Fort Hood,” Edwards said. “The soldiers that are here — from wherever you go to whatever you do — you can see the military presence in this area, so to embrace that and to make it a part of what we are and the fabric of our DNA at Harker Heights, it’s cool.

“A lot of our student-athletes have parents that serve so to come out here to experience what they go through on a daily basis and utilize this great resource in our backyard is awesome.”

And while Killeen may have earned the top prize this year, the competition allowed Hanks to relate to the event in a personal way.

“I was able to talk to my dad about what he went through when he first got in the Army and the similarities of what we’re doing today,” Hanks said.

But the biggest take-away for the Knights?

“That we’re a team,” Hanks noted. “We all work best when we’re together and unified.”

fcardenas@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7562

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