Tommy Lewis wasn't sure just how much camaraderie would develop this week between his Hilton Head Christian Academy football players.
A tighter budget forced the Eagles to stay closer to home the last two days, preventing the team from taking their usual overnight trip to open up preseason drills. So Lewis got creative and shipped his team down S.C. 170 to Parris Island to visit with the U.S. Marine Corps for the start of camp.
Consider their mission accomplished.
"I think everything that Parris Island and the Marines offered to us canceled out (the overnight stay) and then some," Lewis said. "It was definitely worth the trip."
Hilton Head Christian got each of its first three practices in the books -- which featured the installation of the Eagles' base formations on offense and defense -- but it was the activities in between that had the team buzzing.
"The practices were great, but the whole experience of being around the Marines was pretty thrilling," senior free safety Brad Meccariello said. "We got to see some huge guys just fly on the jungle gym stuff. It was pretty impressive."
A pair of lightning storms prevented the Eagles from taking in previously planned events like the repel tower, but other activities seemed to more than make up for it. The group took part in the Confidence obstacle course -- where they took on such challenges as the inverted wall and the rope swing -- before giving way to the Marines and their extraordinary show.
"I just saw a 240-pound guy do some weird pull-ups and stuff like that," junior running back Tyler Chisolm said. "It's amazing to see how ripped they are and see how flexible they can move their bodies."
Chisolm and his teammates all raved about the M-16 simulator, where sophomore center Ben Warner took home the team championship thanks in part to a perfect score in the final round.
And as for Chisolm's own score in the event?
"I'm not allowed to disclose that right now," he said with a laugh. "Maybe a future Marine, maybe?"
The team camaraderie continued to the mixed martial arts demonstration, where Eagles ganged up on one another with the help of pugil sticks and the protection of heavy vests and hockey gloves. The honor for the last one standing in combat went to junior strong safety Nick Pirozzi.
"The soldier said go 60 percent," Meccariello recalled. "I don't think any of us went 60 percent. We were hitting each other pretty hard."
The Eagles continue preseason drills today at Hilton Head Christian, where they practice from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and again from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Naturally, they plan on taking some lessons learned from the Marines.
"It got us closer," Chisolm said. "Working as a team and watching the Marines, we kind of incorporate that into our team."