JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WATE) – Day two in Jacksonville provided food, fun and football for the Vols on Monday. Tennessee was invited to visit the Mayport Naval Station, home to some of the largest U.S. Navy ships in the world.
“This is a great opportunity for us sailors to share our experiences in the Navy and share our ships and this is a great time for the players to see what we do,” U.S. Navy public affairs officer Lt. Jimmy Griffin said.
“This is right up my alley,” Vols senior longsnapper Riley Lovingood said. “Anytime you get to go be around people who get to protect our country is something that’s a true honor. This is real life right here. What we do for football is not real life, this is entertainment. This stuff is real. It’s good for our guys and for me to get around this to show our respects.”
Tennessee was treated to BBQ on the base before walking aboard the USS Billings for an up-close look at one of the fastest ships in the Navy’s fleet.
“We are talking over 40 kn.,” Griffin said. “That’s faster than a racehorse can run on land so that’s how fast our ships are. They have multiple capabilities, the newest technology and that’s what these players are going to see today.”
It was a new experience for the Vols and also for the Navy’s Brian Reynolds and Matt Loeffler, who both grew up fans of the Vols in Tennessee.
“It is absolutely incredible,” Reynolds said, who is a mass communications specialist in the U.S. Navy. “As soon as I found out that the Vols were going to be here, I was ecstatic. It is absolutely a dream come true for them to be able to be here and for us to be able to host them here on our base.”
“Being in the military, I’ve gotten to do and see a lot of great things but this is definitely top of the list to see your team come on board your ship and see where you work and get to meet them and stuff it’s amazing, said Loeffler, an information system technician first class from Manchester, Tenn.
Tennessee made a quick turnaround to the practice field at the University of North Florida where Jeremy Pruitt has been pleased with his team’s effort.
“It was a good practice,” Pruitt said. “Our kids have been focused on the entire bowl prep and it was a good first day.”
“Coach Pruitt is keeping everyone on task,” Lovingood said. “He’s making sure everyone is focused and ready to go. We are down here for one goal and that’s to beat Indiana. I’m really impressed with how this bowl preparation is going. It’s my third bowl game and so I’m getting to see that we are right in line.”