Ethan Feuerborn gets goose bumps every time he watches his best friend play football for Navy.
This week, he's getting them just thinking about it.
Not only will boyhood buddy Tyler Simmons be starting at linebacker Saturday in the Army-Navy game, but he will also wearing the red-shielded patch of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
In a game that already carries meaning beyond the gridiron, the patches add another layer of significance. Regiments can send a patch to the team, and some even provide one that's been worn in combat. Then, the players pick the patch that they want to wear.
No choice was more personal than Simmons'.
â€œThis is the kind of stuff that happens in movies,â€ Feuerborn said. â€œIt's not supposed to happen in Washington, Okla.â€
The small town southwest of Norman is where Simmons and Feuerborn grew up, where the next door neighbors became like brothers. They played football, basketball and pretty much every other sport together, starring at Washington High.
That's also where both of them decided they wanted to serve their country.
While Simmons became a small-school standout, was recruited by both Army and Navy and eventually signed with the Midshipmen, Feuerborn enlisted in the Marines right out of high school. He was eventually assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton in California.
Last year, the 1/5 deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration's massive troop surge.
The regiment's destination: the Nawa District in the volatile Helmand province.
â€œIt was a really bad place when we got there,â€ Feuerborn said. â€œThe Taliban had shut down all their schools, all their medical facilities.â€
The Taliban was well-entrenched, running the district and intimidating the people. There were stories of Afghans being stopped on the roads by the Taliban who demanded â€œtollsâ€ and gunned them down if they couldn't pay.
â€œPoorer than poor,â€ Feuerborn said of the people there. â€œNo running water. No electricity. No nothing.â€
The Marines' first weeks on the ground were difficult.
â€œWhen we got there, it was bad,â€ Feuerborn said. â€œThere was some pretty heavy fighting.â€
The regiment rooted out the insurgents, then began building trust with the locals. It started schools. It opened medical clinics. It worked to improve the economy and the government. In the process, the Marines built relationships with the Afghans and laid a foundation for success.
The Nawa District was among the first to start the transition to self-governance.
â€œWe felt like we made a difference in the war and in their part of the world,â€ Feuerborn said. â€œThat's pretty much what you join for.â€
Those Marines did such an outstanding job in Nawa that top-ranking military officials have used them as an example of success in Afghanistan.
â€œIt's definitely cool to be part of that,â€ said Feuerborn, who completed his four-year service last May, worked as a graduate assistant on the Washington High football team this fall and is preparing to start college next month. â€œIt's something I'm really proud of.â€
He's not the only one.
â€œHe saw some pretty nasty stuff over there,â€ Simmons said via telephone earlier this week. â€œI'm very, very proud of Ethan.â€
That's why Simmons, who is going into the Marines himself, called Feuerborn a few weeks back and told him that he wanted to wear his regiment's patch.
Feuerborn immediately knew what that meant â€” lots of TV time for the 1/5.
Simmons, after all, is Navy's leading tackler. He has 111 tackles this season, nearly 40 more than the Middies' second-leading tackler.
He has a knack for big plays, too. A fourth-down, goal-line tackle on the game's opening possession at Notre Dame led to a 99-yard drive and a 35-17 rout. A late-game interception at SMU led to Navy's game-winning touchdown drive.
â€œComing from a small town just seeing somebody that you know so well playing on TV,â€ Feuerborn said, â€œyou think that's the coolest thing in the world.â€
To see Simmons playing in the Army-Navy game on Saturday wearing that patch?
â€œHe could pick any other unit ever, and he wanted to pick the one that I was in,â€ Feuerborn said. â€œThat just gives me goose bumps.â€
â€œIt gives you goose bumps over and over again.â€
No skiing Tyler Simmons is no world-class downhill skier. But the Oklahoma native and Navy linebacker tried to act like one during a weekend ski trip with his teammates this past winter, and it could've cost him his senior season. â€œThey were doing all sorts of tricks,â€ Simmons said. â€œI said: â€˜You know, if they're going to do it, I'm going to do it.'â€ He chuckled. â€œIt just didn't work out too well for me.â€ Going full tilt, he slammed into a mogul and his pole stuck in the snow. It rammed his midsection. He eventually went to the hospital and learned he'd fractured a couple ribs and lacerated his spleen. Blood flow had to be cut off to his spleen, and he spent a couple weeks in the hospital. Simmons missed spring practice and was limited during the summer. While sitting out was difficult for the former Washington High standout, it heightened his appreciation for football. â€œWhenever you have the opportunity to play and you're not able to, it puts it in a completely different perspective,â€ he said. â€œIn the end, no regrets.â€ Still ... â€œNo more skiing for awhile.â€ By Jenni Carlson