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Spartans Tour USS Essex, Hold Final Holiday Bowl Practice on Tuesday

Dec. 26, 2017

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- It was an eventful day for the Michigan State football team on Tuesday as kickoff nears for the 40th annual San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl.

With a light schedule earlier in the day that included meetings and film, one of the highlights of the week in San Diego took place in the afternoon as the Spartans had the honor of getting an exclusive tour of the USS Essex.

The second ship to be commissioned in the WASP-class of multipurpose amphibious assault ships, the principle mission of the 844-foot long, 44,000-ton USS Essex (LHD 2) is to conduct prompt, sustained operations at sea, primarily as the centerpiece and flagship of the Amphibious Ready Group. LHDs provide the means to transport, deploy, command and support all elements of a Marine landing force of over 2,000 troops during an assault by air and amphibious craft.

The privilege of being able to visit the USS Essex was not lost on the Spartans.

"It was really special today to have the opportunity to go through a ship like this, and see it up close and personal," said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "You have a respect for what everybody goes through here in terms of being on this ship and being deployed out at sea for seven to nine months at a time.

"We always talk about making life moments for our players, especially on bowl trips, and I think this is something they'll never forget. It's really hard to put into words what we just saw with the immenseness of everything."

The tour began with a brief program that included opening remarks from the commanding officer of the USS Essex, Capt. Jason A. Burns, and a presentation of the Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp Trophy to longtime Spartan head strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie.



"This is the greatest honor I've ever received. This is unbelievable," said Mannie, as the trophy is given to a person in the program who best exemplifies the spirit of unselfish dedication and teamwork which resulted in little recognition or acclaim, but contributed significantly to an outstanding 2017 season for the team. "I will cherish this for the rest of my life."

"I think it kind of put everything in perspective for him, in terms of what he's done for this football team," said Dantonio. "When I sat down and asked myself, `who best embodies what this award meant,' I thought of Ken Mannie. He's had such a big impact on so many of our players over the course of his 23 years, and he's been very involved in everybody's life and very involved in the success of this program."

In addition, aviation electronics technician third class Tyrese Jamison was named a Spartan honorary captain for the Holiday Bowl. Jamison was presented a Michigan State jersey from Dantonio and took a group photo with the entire team.

It was also an emotional visit for senior captain linebacker Chris Frey, who has several members of his family that have either served or are currently serving in the military, including his father, Chris, who was in the Navy.

"It meant a lot to me," said Frey. "I have huge family ties to the military, with a bunch of family members in the Marines, my dad was in the Navy, and a couple relatives in the Army, so some of the things that we were able to do on this trip were something that some of many family members were never able to do. To be with Coach Dantonio to get the VIP tour was just such an unbelievable experience, it was awesome."

The players then had a chance to see all levels of the ship and ask questions to members of the crew on board. In addition, Capt. Burns took Dantonio and members of the Spartan Eagle leadership council on a VIP tour.

"We were on the flight deck and they were talking about all of their duties and things, and we were talking with one of the girls that was up there that works on the ship and she said, `yeah I graduated high school a couple months ago,' so that really sunk in that we're over here playing football for fun and you're over here fighting for your life and for our country," remarked Frey. "It's crazy to know that there are people younger than us on this ship that are fighting for our country. It was just a humbling opportunity, awesome experience, and you've just got to enjoy every second of it."

"When you ask our players how many of them know someone in the armed services, it's over 90 percent of hands that go up," Dantonio said. "They all have friends or relatives serving, whatever branch it is, they are all involved with those people, not just for a short time, but for a lifetime. I think it greatly impacts them to see something like this.

"I think this is just like one big team that we came to visit here today; everybody has a role, everybody brings value to what they do, there's pressure in every job that they have, much like there's pressure involved in a game for players that are playing on the field, but I think the difference is this is life decisions. We play a game," Dantonio said. "This is life decisions that they impact, just with the protection of our country and everything that goes along with it, is much more meaningful and very, very special."

Following the visit to Naval Base San Diego, the Spartans held their final practice of the season with a two-hour evening workout at Mesa College in helmets, shells and shorts. With temperatures in the high 50s, MSU underwent its final tuneup before facing No. 18 Washington State on Thursday.

After the final practice, the Spartans continued their longstanding tradition under Dantonio as the 2017 seniors walked down a receiving line to share final goodbyes with other teammates, coaches and support staff.

The Spartans will participate in the National Funding Kickoff Luncheon on Wednesday, then will have a brief walk through and team photo at SDCCU Stadium in the afternoon.

No. 16 Michigan State (9-3) will face the No. 18 Cougars (9-3) at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 28 in the 40th annual San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. The game will be televised on FS1.

*Information regarding the USS Essex was provided from the official United States Navy website.

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