WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Flanked on both sides by tombstones and monuments and pieces of the United States' rich history, members of Manatee High's football team made their way up the Arlington National Cemetery's hilly walking path Saturday evening.
While some snapped photos with their phones and others posed for pictures, some of the players marveled at the youth of some of the fallen.
"Yeah," defensive line coach Steve Gulash said to a group of Hurricanes, "they were your age."
"He was only 17," a player said while staring at a tombstone.
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Manatee opens its regular season at 7 p.m. Sunday against Gilman, Md., at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium on the University of Maryland campus.
But roughly an hour after landing Saturday afternoon and checking into their hotel in Arlington, Va., the Hurricanes put football aside and
indulged in some American history.
Decked out in gray Manatee T-shirts and red workout pants, the players hopped on a pair of yellow school buses and made their way to downtown Washington, D.C., where they toured the National World War II Memorial and Lincoln Memorial and took in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, which was drained during Manatee's last trip to Washington in 2011.
Then it was off to the cemetery, where most of the players made the long trek uphill to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some even got to witness The Changing of the Guard Ritual, which occurs every half hour from April 1 through Sept. 30.
Less than half a dozen players on this year's squad were with the Canes in '11, when Manatee opened the season against another Maryland school, Our Lady of Good Counsel, and toured the national's capital the following day.
"This is pretty cool. I've never been here before," quarterback Josh Meyer said. "It's a lot different than I expected. I've had jitters about this all week."
Meyer and some of his teammates posed in front of the World War II Memorial, while others posed in front of Florida's portion of the memorial.
Senior offensive lineman Jake Stickler was one of the few Hurricanes who has been on both D.C. trips. And while he seemed pleased with being back in D.C., his mind was on the Greyhounds, who opened their regular season last week with an upset over nationally-ranked Good Counsel.
"I'm more excited to play the game," said Stickler, who has committed to Georgia Tech. "We came here to play a game first and see the sites second."
Stickler remembers Manatee's last trip to the D.C./Maryland area, which included a double-overtime loss to Good Counsel. The Hurricanes rebounded that year and won the Class 7A state title, but Stickler remembers how much the loss hurt.
"The bus ride back, nobody said anything," Stickler recalled. "There was just anger."
Following the stop at Arlington National Cemetery, the Hurricanes went out for a team meal and were scheduled to work out in the pool with strength and conditioning coach Rich Lanksy upon returning to the hotel.
Sunday's itinerary includes a morning visit to the Sept. 11 memorial at the Pentagon, which is a quick walk from the team hotel, before heading over to Byrd Stadium at around 5 p.m.
If Saturday had nothing to do with football, Sunday is all about football.
Stickler, for one, is ready.
"I'm excited to play them," he said of Gilman. "They look like a really good team."