The Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp started up this week. But before they opened their practices to the public, even before the players started working out in pads, the team invited active-duty military, veterans and their families for a special Military Appreciation Day.
Hundreds turned out Friday before 8:45 a.m.
A U.S. Army staff sergeant and assistant professor of military science at the University of South Florida ROTC, Jonathan Darm, said there are some similarities between the military and professional athletes.
“In the sense that, we practice hard, train hard because you know we’ve got to be good at what we do,” Darm said.
He just moved to Tampa. So Friday was his first time watching a Bucs’ practice. His two sons, Justin and Caydin, preferred running the obstacle course in the “Kids Zone” which is set up to keep kids entertained at the practices.
But the military was represented by more than men and women in the sideline bleachers.
Some Buccaneers have strong military ties.
Defensive Tackle Clinton MacDonald said his father served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force as a C-130 engineer.
“And I got a little brother who is in the Air Force right now. So, Military Appreciation Day means more than saying a thank you,” MacDonald said after a two-hour practice. ”It provided food, a way of living for my family for a while and every time I play and they fly the planes over, sometimes they fly C-130s over, and I think about my father.”
On Friday, MacDonald was one of the last players to leave the field staying to sign autographs and pose for photos with every military family member and veteran who asked.
Tinker Elementary student Tyrell Downs, whose father is serving at MacDill Air Force Base, stood along the fence gathering autographs on his football. He said there are demands being in a military family.
"You have to be responsible, hard work and listening and helping others," Downs said. "If you get good grades, this happens."
Just next to him along the fence, Buccaneer wide receiver Kenny Bell showed off his afro and quizzed a young fan, Braedon Raybon, about his haircut.
"Did your mom make you cut it? My mom made me cut my hair all the time. I was bald until I was 18," Bell said and then laughed along with Raybon.
Like most military families that move every few years, Raybon just arrived in Tampa eight weeks ago. He said he's a diehard Cowboys fan, but he said he'll now root for the Buccaneers.