Michigan State coach reflects on team's visit aboard Naval ship in San Diego. Matt Charboneau
San Diego — As Michigan State linebacker Chris Frey stood on the flight deck of the USS Essex on Tuesday afternoon, he tried to take in everything he was seeing.
Frey and his Michigan State teammates got a tour of the ship stationed at Naval Base San Diego. Frey joined coach Mark Dantonio and teammates Brian Allen, Gerald Holmes, Khari Willis and Shane Jones for a VIP tour of the vessel with Capt. Jason Burns, the ship’s commanding officer.
“Humbling,” Frey said of the experience. “It was an awesome experience and you’ve got to enjoy every second of it.”
The Spartans left the base to get in another practice for Thursday’s Holiday Bowl matchup with Washington State, but odds are the experience they had on Tuesday won’t fade anytime soon.
“We were on the flight deck and they’re talking about the different things they do and we started talking to one of the girls that works on the ship and she’s like, ‘Yeah, I graduated from high school a couple months ago.’ It’s like, ‘OK, we’re over here playing football for fun and you’re here fighting for your life, fighting for our country.’ It’s crazy to know people younger than us on this ship are fighting for our county.”
Dantonio believes what he and his team got to see on Tuesday — a massive ship that can have as many as 1,200 sailors and Marines on it at a time — can have a lasting impact.
“I think we always talk about making life moments for our players, especially on bowl trips,” Dantonio said. “I think this something they’ll never forget. It’s really hard to put into words what we just saw.
“I think this is like one big team that we came to visit today. Everybody has a role and everybody brings value to what they do. There’s pressure involved in every job they have much like the pressure involved in a game for players on that field. But the difference is these are life decisions. We play a game. This is life decisions that they impact. The protection of our country and everything that goes along with it, it’s much more meaningful and special than a football game.”
For Frey, it was especially meaningful because of his family’s ties to the military. His dad was in the navy and while he was on the ship, a cousin who serves sent him a message on his phone saying how lucky he was to be getting the tour.
It was the connection most players felt as they toured the ship that’s primary mission is to embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine landing force in amphibious operations by helicopter, landing craft, amphibious vehicle or any combination of those methods.
“When you ask our players how many of them know people in the armed services, I’d say 90 percent of our hands go up,” Dantonio said. “So, they all have friends serving, whatever branch it is, and all are involved with those people, not just for a short time but for a lifetime and I think it impacts them to see something like this. I was walking with a lot of guys as we were getting here and they were sort of awestruck with the size of everything here.”
Strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie, who is in his 23rd season at Michigan State, was awarded the Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp trophy. The award honors the memory of Sharp's 45-year Navy career and is presented to those that display unselfish commitment, motivation and teamwork that ultimately leads to the team's overall success.
“I think it puts in perspective for him in terms of what he’s done for this football team,” Dantonio said. “When I sat down and asked myself who best embodies what that award means, I thought of Ken Mannie. He has had such a big impact on so many of our players over the course of time. He’s been very involved in everyone’s life and very involved in the success of this program.
… Aviation electronics technician third class Tyrese Jamison of Brooklyn, N.Y., was named an honorary captain for the Spartans and was presented a Michigan State game jersey.