Navy Pilots Join Old Dominion Football Team for Sweaty Workout

ODU offensive lineman Keanon McNally high-fives Britteney Powers
ODU offensive lineman Keanon McNally high-fives Britteney Powers at the conclusion of a joint workout with the Navy VFA 106 Demo Team at the L.R. Hill Sports Complex in Norfolk on Thursday, June 20, 2024. (Kendall Warner / The Virginian-Pilot)

NORFOLK — At the end of Old Dominion’s summer football workout Thursday morning, dozens of players stood in a circle at the team’s practice field and watched with great interest as two people engaged in a tire-pull competition.

The scene appeared to be fairly normal for the finish of an offseason workout — until it wasn’t.

When the competition wrapped up, the players chanted “USA! USA! USA!” as they jumped up and down and cheered.

The patriotic fervor was the result of the presence of a handful of special guests.

About seven pilots, members of the Navy VFA-106 Demo Team out of Naval Air Station Oceana, went through agility drills with the Monarchs. The visit was reciprocation for ODU’s visit to the base for a jet fighter demonstration last week.

Lt. Marty Wilson, a 38-year-old instructor pilot, was drenched in sweat by the time the pilots and the players finished sprinting and cutting between various arrangements of sticks and cones under the morning sun.

“We tried to teach a little bit to them about how we do things, and this was very much the other side of the coin here,” said Wilson, a 16-year Navy veteran. “We came out here to learn and see how the ODU football team applies some of our common traits to being successful in practices, and hopefully successful for them on the football field when the season starts in the fall.”

Monarchs head coach Ricky Rahne, whose father and uncles were in the military, said both teams picked each other’s brains.

Meanwhile, Rahne hoped to create some new fans while reminding his players how cool what they do can be.

“I think one thing that’s really important is that the other walks of life want to be you,” Rahne said. “They want to be able to experience that. Just like our guys want to be musicians and all that sort of stuff, guess what: The musicians all want to be athletes. So take advantage of the opportunities that you have and know that this is a pretty special deal to be able to play college football. And I think this was a great reminder of that.”

The exchange of experiences isn’t new. The Monarchs participated in similar activities before the pandemic paused them. Thursday marked its first resumption.

Wilson, a native of Lorton, said his group benefitted.

“There’s commonalities between the two organizations,” Wilson said. “The two that I saw were teamwork and diligence to detail. That applies to our organization. It applies to theirs. And sharing those things and strengthening those ideals is great. I’d love to do more of it.”

Rahne said many of his players and staffers come from families with military backgrounds, so making them understand the importance of what their visitors do was not difficult.

That was evident in how the morning ended.

“They get a pretty good sense of it,” Rahne said. “They went into that ‘USA’ chant pretty quick at the end.”

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