WSU saw the USS America last year. This year, the Cougars got a tour of an amphibious assault ship, the USS Essex

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The burly helicopter pilot dressed in Navy fatigues looked big enough to have been a football player himself as he gathered the Washington State players around him on the well deck on the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship docked at the San Diego Naval Station. And indeed, Lt. Paul Bridgers could identify with the Cougars’ players from the standpoint of a former NCAA football player. “This is kinda cool for me because I was in you guys’ shoes 13 years ago, with Navy,” Bridgers told the Cougars at the start of their tour of the USS Essex. “I came to San Diego for two different Poinsettia Bowls and did this – walked around an LHD and got to see it. So it’s totally flipped.” Bridgers, a native of Gaithersburg, Md., played offensive tackle for Navy under former head coach Paul Johnson from 2004-07 and graduated with the class of 2008. Since then, he’s become a helicopter pilot stationed on the Essex, flying the MH-60R Seahawk. As Bridgers led the Cougars around the ship as part of their tour arranged by the Holiday Bowl, his football background gave him a unique standpoint from which to answer their questions. “Is it pretty tight in the helicopter you fly?” WSU right tackle Cole Madison asked Bridgers. “I actually fit pretty good,” said Bridgers, whose Navy football profile from 2007 lists him at 6-foot-3, 268 pounds. “That’s why I fly helicopters. Planes are a little small.” Even though this was the second year in a row WSU toured a U.S. Navy ship as part of Holiday Bowl activities, the Cougars got to see a different ship after exploring the USS America last year. “Last year was really windy, you had to hold yourself up from the wind,” said safety Hunter Dale, whose uncle Dustin Decker is in the Navy and stationed in San Diego. “This year was better weather and we got to see some different things. They were both pretty cool” Such as the well deck that Bridgers started the tour from. “This is the ship’s parking garage,” Bridgers said, gesturing at the empty space around him that fed into a ramp. “On board amphibious assault ship, our job is to get Marines places. That whole area fills up with water and we can move boats in and out.” A few decks up, the sailors gave the football players a tour of the ship’s firefighting capabilities, and let them try on some of the firefighting gear. Running back James Williams strapped on an oxygen mask and tank, while fellow tailback Jamal Morrow donned a firefighter’s mask to get a feel for what it’s like to be on a Navy fire control team. “They explained everything, and how they save people from fires,” Williams said. “We didn’t see this last year so it was cool.”
Luke Falk awarded the US Grant Sharp Admiral’s Trophy Aboard the USS Essex, WSU quarterback Luke Falk was awarded the US Grant Sharp Admiral’s Trophy for leadership. “I can’t thank you guys enough, this has been such a fun ride,” Falk said to his teammates in his acceptance speech. “This one is for you.”