Football Works Out with Fort Riley Soldiers

Wearing sneakers, black shorts and matching grey t-shirts, the team may have looked the part for routine weight lifting session, but what they had in store for the morning was far from ordinary.
Before the sun began to rise, 121 football players hopped in the busses parked just outside of the stadium and took off for Fort Riley where they joined the 1-28 Infantry Division at the U.S. Army post for a morning of Physical Training (PT).
"I think it went well," began Lt. Col. David Lander, Commander of the 1-28 Infantry. "It's been a long time since we've done something like this, and for them to come over and spend some time with our soldiers, our soldiers got a lot out of that."
Upon arrival, the football players were split into 12 groups and partnered with groups of soldiers. Wasting no time, once the groups of players were intertwined with their respective group of soldiers, they were off to begin PT. 
The bugle was played at 6:30 a.m., the Black Lions sang the Big Red 1 Infantry Song and then, like clockwork, PT began. 
The two-mile course around the Black Lions' headquarters building was broken up into five stations - bear crawl, lunges, group sit-ups, air squats and burpees. Once a group completed each task, they would take a brisk jog between each station together. 
"It was hard," said defensive back Morgan Burns after completing the PT session. "It was different. We did a lot more long distance than we usually do. We do more sprints and quick stuff, but today we were jogging, doing the obstacles, things we're not really used to, so it was good - really beneficial for us."
While it was a different type of workout than the football players were used to, the overall intent of the morning PT session was to build moral, create teamwork between the football players and soldiers and to strengthen the partnership of K-State football and the Black Lions.
"I feel like when a group of guys come together and work hard, you kind of get this bond," continued Burns, "this sense of unity, like a brotherhood. I feel like when guys work together and sweat you just naturally come together."
Agreeing with Burns, defensive end Ryan Mueller also said the bond between the soldiers he worked out with was similar to the bond football teammates need to create a successful team.
"It was a really great experience for our team to build unity," said Mueller as he took a swig of Gatorade. "The Army really is a huge family and unity is very important to them. Unity is only going to build strength in our team, so I'm glad Coach gave us the opportunity to come out here and get this done."
After PT, the groups gathered together, cooled down and stretched. The football players laughed and joked with the soldiers, many of whom are the same age. 
"It was a different experience because they are definitely very athletic guys, that's for sure," said 1-28 infantry Private Dakota Roys. "It was a good switch up for us. It's pretty cool seeing this partnership grow and how we've all gotten along with each other. I met and talked to a whole bunch of the guys today and now we would like to play football with them - that would be really cool."
Though the partnership began in 2006, it's been nearly six years since K-State took a visit to Fort Riley. While the partnership has always been present, this team of Wildcat football players has never experienced firsthand what it is their soldier neighbors do. Working closer with associate head coach and special teams coordinator Sean Snyder, LTC Lander said the two partners are working to have events like the PT session happen more frequently. 
"When the Black Lions come in to Manhattan and come in to the complex, our players are seeing the soldiers, but they're not experiencing them in their environment," said Snyder. "It's the same thing when the soldiers get to come and experience our players in gear and pads and games are being played. When you come here, it puts a real life tone to it as far as what they do, the urgency that the military has and what these soldiers really go through."
In addition to the PT session, a smaller group of football players, coaches and staff had the opportunity to visit Fort Riley's rifle range last week and learn about the weapons the Black Lions use. 
At the range, Captain Cale Jensen, commander of the 1-28 Infantry's Charlie Company, introduced K-State to the automatic weapons his unit uses. The players and staff got up close and personal with the weapons and, after a safety briefing, each person took their turn shooting an M4 rifle. 
"We've done several events with the football team, and it's been a great experience for me," said Cpt. Jensen. "I never met guys like this. I didn't go to a D-1 college or play football, but we're still all normal and the same. We think all the same things are cool. It was great getting to meet these guys and talking to them because we're all just normal guys when it comes down to it."
On a sunny, 85-degree day, the players and coaches geared up in body armor, eye gear, helmets, kneepads and gloves and were paired with an experienced soldier to shoot with. Each Wildcat had the opportunity to shoot 10 rounds with the M4 at targets ranging from 100 to 300 meters. 
"It was fun. It was really hot, but it's pretty cool wearing the gear and being up in the shooting bunks, getting some real life feel," said wide receiver Curry Sexton. "We didn't even have on the full Army uniform, we just had the armor, pads and the helmet and I was sweating like crazy. For these guys to be our here dressed in full suit and it's not even that hot yet, I can't even imagine what that would be like."
Having the opportunity at both the rifle range and at PT to meet, talk to and work together with Black Lion soldiers has made the partnership come to life more than ever.
"They come to Fort Riley Day and we have the partnership. We wear the Big Red One on the back of our helmets, but we haven't ever really interacted with them on a basis like this," explained Sexton. "It makes it a little more real, and I think this will make our partnership even stronger." 
Through the hard work of both parties, the partnership between these two teams with so many differences yet so much in common, has only continued to grow. It is a partnership built on mutual respect and friendship, and the future ahead has never been brighter.  
"I noticed in the beginning nobody was saying anything, but by the end of the morning, everyone was talking and laughing with each other," said Lander after Wednesday's PT. "It's that team building aspect, having mutual respect for each other and for what they do. We do share a lot in common with the amount of work and the amount of energy we put in our goals. It's been great to share that with each other." 

For video of K-State football's visit to the shooting range, click here. 



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