FORT KNOX, Ky. — Two long lines of bright orange and black pint-sized fans snaked from the parking lot of Caruso Youth Sports Complex past the concession stand to the football field May 19.
The children cheered as they watched a large touring bus roll down Wilson Road and turn toward them.
“BENGALS! BENGALS! BENGALS!”
When the door to the bus opened and two dozen NFL football players from the Cincinnati Bengals filed out, the rowdy crowd erupted.
Although the last of a three-stop tour at the installation, few would argue it was the most magical for the young athletes who anticipated rubbing elbows with giants.
The day started quite a bit quieter for the players when they arrived at the Training Support Center. The plan was for them to split into two teams: one to experience an Army mobile recruiting trailer, the other to witness military working dogs in action.
Called the Army STEM Asset Exhibit trailer, players learned how the Army pursues many avenues that help humanity.
During the working dog demonstration, Staff Sgt. Bret Ashabranner, senior enlisted leader of the kennels, had one of his Soldiers don a Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes jersey and run from a working dog as if he was a fleeing suspect. The players laughed.
“They are going to witness a little of our day-to-day work: how we do our training, how we do our patrols,” said Ashabranner. “Maybe we’ll get them to experience a little bit of it as well.”
Bengals running back Chris Evans agreed to experience it, volunteering to be attacked by K9 working dog Akaba during the demonstration. His teammates videotaped the experience and laughed as he was quickly tackled by the dog.
“I really liked this; I felt like it’s the closest you’ll get to a live game,” said Evans. “I enjoy that rush I get when somebody is trying to attack me.”
The players traveled to Pells Range next to try their hand at qualifying with an M4 carbine rifle. The qualification also afforded them a little bit of inhouse competition.
Before the qualification, the Bengals met with members of 373rd Quartermaster Battalion – a petroleum Reserve unit – who happened to be training at the range at the time. The unit is from Jeffersonville, Indiana.
During the first firing order, rookie halfback Jacob Saylors knocked down the most targets, hitting them at different distances including at the furthest distance of 300 meters. He admitted afterward that he knew “a little bit” of how to handle a rifle.
“I have quite a bit of experience,” said Saylors. “I’m from Tennessee and every holiday my family shoots guns. Everybody in the family has rifles and pistols.”
Halfback Calvin Tyler Jr., who ended up having the highest score of the day, also admitted he had fired rifles before.
“This is nothing new to me,” Tyler said. “I’ve never been on a range like this before, so I messed up. I was trying to hit the farthest targets; I wasn’t focused on the ones up close.”
From Beaumont, Texas, Tyler said he grew up hunting in the woods with his grandfather from the age of 10.
“We’d go hog hunting, deer hunting,” said Tyler. “Whatever it was, we hunted it.”
Defensive tackle Devonnsha Maxwell, from Georgia, scored the highest score in the second group.
After coming off the firing line, he said he was shocked at how difficult it was to shoot accurately.
“I’ve never done anything like this. It’s crazy to see how these guys do this every day. It takes way more skill than people think,” said Maxwell. “People watching football think, ‘I could do that.’ Playing shooter video games, I’ve said the same thing: ‘That doesn’t look too hard.’
“When you come out here, it takes a lot of skill to keep the gun focused, and the aim right, keeping the small laser on it – the laser looks way bigger in real life.”
Not one to let either player get too cocky, range officer Sgt. Maj. Brian McDearmond laughed and told them neither had actually qualified. Out of a total possible score of 40, Maxwell shot 17, Saylors shot an 18, and Tyler shot a 19.
“This is a great opportunity for our Soldiers to represent the Army and give these guys a little taste of it. There’s nothing more fun than shooting rifles,” said McDearmond. “We have some people from the Cincinnati area, so there are a lot of fans among us.
“And considering that these players didn’t get the chance to zero the rifles, some of them did quite well; I even told one guy he could be a sniper.”
After the bus pulled up to Caruso Youth Sports Complex and the initial fanfare of meeting the players dissipated, the Bengals – most of them rookies – fanned out across the field at designated drill and practice stations. They worked closely with each child to hone their passing, running and speed skills, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.
For at least some of the children, those dreams now include someday playing for the Bengals.
For more photos and video, visit Cincinnati Bengals Visit May 19, 2023 | Flickr