Naval Station Mayport – The company and camaraderie at a meet-and-greet event does not get much better.
In the shade of a patio with the smell of boiling shrimp drifting at the Mayport Chief Petty Officer's Club on the Mayport beachfront, six Jaguars players met and greeted sailors while posing for photographs and signing autographs on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
"It just feels good to come out here and show our support that we appreciate what they do for us," Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "I think what we do is a lot smaller compared to what they do."
Known to Mayport sailors as the Foc'sle Lounge, the club held a grand re-opening after a lengthy renovation, including a ribbon cutting, a "hail and farewell" ceremony, a seafood boil and live music, with events open to all hands.
Offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield was excited for his first visit to a military base.
"It's pretty exciting, a first-time experiencing and seeing something like this," Bradfield said. "They do so much for us as American citizens that we don't even see, so to come out here and sign autographs and meet them is great."
Bradfield, wide receiver Tobias Palmer, offensive guard Will Rackley, Shorts, defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith and tight end Isaiah Stanback attended the event.
One Officer at Wednesday's event who understands the importance of the interaction of the NFL and the military is Command Master Chief Petty Officer Jeffery Barlow, stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. He is the older brother of former Jaguars receiver Reggie Barlow, who is now the head football coach at Alabama State University.
"I think it's absolutely important because we are a team; the Jaguars are a team," Barlow said. "The players come together from all different walks of life, all different colleges, they come together to become a team for one goal and one mission: win football games. In the Navy, we are a team coming from all walks of life and we come together for one goal and one mission of our command or of the Navy: to defend peace."
Reggie Barlow was the fourth-round selection in the 1996 draft by the Jaguars and played the first five seasons of an eight-year NFL career in Jacksonville. He is the franchise career leader in punt returns, punt return yardage and punt return touchdowns.
While signing autographs, Jaguars offensive guard Will Rackley reflected on his special connection to the military.
"I kind of have a soft spot for the military because my father was in the Army for about ten years," Rackley said. "I try to come out and support any chance I can. These guys always have great stories to tell us. I think it's a good chance to see just how their life is and what they do on a daily basis."
Wednesday was a lucky day for Petty Officer, Second Class Jolene Lovett, a member of the Naval Reserve in her fourth year. She has been a Jaguars fan from the beginning – and is a regular visitor to jaguars.com. She had to make a quick adjustment after hearing about the players' visit.
"I heard about it an hour ago," Lovett said. "I went and got my stuff and came right back."
Lovett brought a Jaguars football, hat and shirt and had each autographed by all six players in attendance. From the Atlanta, Ga. area, Lovett said that she has been a Jaguars fan from the beginning.
"My all-time favorite is number eight Mark Brunell," Lovett said. "I come to a game every year, no matter where I am. I plan on being at as many as I can this year."
One rookie in particular has her interest prior to the 2013 season.
"I'm real excited about Johnathan Cyprien this year," Lovett said. "I can't wait to see him hit it hard. I'm real excited to see him play. It's time to get back on defense in a good way."