Sailors run through combine-style drills with ex-NFL stars at Great Lakes base

Competitors pose with retired Green Bay Packer Jordy Nelson, holding the banner on the left, and retired Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher, holding the banner on the right, following the "Salute to Service Boot Camp." Naval Station Great Lakes Morale, Welfare and Recreation teamed up with USAA for a special NFL experience. More than 100 sailors competed.


By PHIL THOMPSON | Chicago Tribune | Published: September 4, 2019

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Brian Urlacher and Jordy Nelson got to face off again, but this time surrounded by sailors at Naval Station Great Lakes instead of fans at Soldier Field.

The former Bear and Packer coached military service members through NFL combine-style drills Tuesday as part of USAA’s Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp.

“It’s cool to be out here and a part of it. It’s a neat event,” Urlacher said. “I used to live like right here (by the base) so I could hear them doing the cadence in the morning.”

Mike Magnetta, USAA’s military affairs representative and a former Navy command master chief, helped bring the camp to Great Lakes, the seventh USAA has hosted this year and the first in the Chicago-Milwaukee region.

“(It's) the 100th NFL season, (and) we have 100 great sailors participating today,” Magnetta said. “But really it's a unique opportunity to bring the combine experience, the boot camp experience, to Great Lakes. First time on a Navy base and hopefully we'll see more in the future.”

Capt. Raymond C. Leung, Great Lakes’ commanding officer, said football culture is ingrained in the military community, noting that NFL games are broadcast on the Armed Forces Network.

"I can tell you that when we're out on deployment in the middle of the Persian Gulf, every Sunday is a gathering time for watching the games," Leung said.

— One sailor made a strong impression on Urlacher — looking really crisp while running a three-cone drill as Urlacher barked at him — but then he jogged out the last leg.

“He pulled up like 5 yards short,” Urlacher said. “I thought he pulled a hamstring or something. It’s all fun. They’re all a bunch of young kids for the most part so they get a chance to go do some of the drills we went through in the combine.”

— Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Sanders was the talk of the “combine.” “I think I excelled today at the 30-yard sprint where you’re sprinting and catching the ball at the same time,” said the 26-year-old Orlando native and drill instructor. “I made every catch. I think I went pretty fast.”

Nelson coached her through her drills, including her vertical jump.

“He gave me a ‘Good job’ and a high-five. I think he was just being nice though.”

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A sailor competes in the vertical jump drill during the "Salute to Service Boot Camp" at Naval Station Great Lakes on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.

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