Alcoa uses raft to honor fallen Navy SEAL’s sacrifice, motivate team in postseason run | Sports

Adam Brown’s sacrifice hasn’t been lost on the Alcoa football team, defensive coordinator Brian Nix has made sure of it.

Brown died fighting in the Komar Province of Afghanistan for U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six as part of Operation Enduring Freedom on March 17, 2010. His life’s story, from battling drug addiction to joining one of the American military’s elite fighting forces is chronicled in the book “Fearless” by Eric Blehm.

That book is where Nix learned more about Brown and it’s why he’s using his story as a source of motivation for the Tornadoes as they push through the postseason and towards another state championship.

“Every year we do some kind of book study for the playoffs so this year we’re doing the book ‘Fearless’ about Adam Brown,” Nix told The Daily Times. “His whole life with drug addiction, he was on the verge of suicide. His life was as bad as it could have gotten and then he joined the Navy, becomes a part of SEAL Team Six and was later killed in Afghanistan.”

It started in the lead up to Alcoa’s Class 3A playoff second round game against Gatlinburg-Pittman, which coincidentally fell on Veterans Day weekend on Nov. 12.

Alcoa stormed onto Goddard Field with team captains holding American flags and behind them, the rest of the team hoisting a green raft — loaned to the program Adventure Unlimited an Ocoee River whitewater rafting outfitter — above their heads. After trouncing the Highlanders, 63-0, to move on to the quarterfinals against Pigeon Forge the following week, the Tornadoes again carried the raft together.

“There’s a video where they talk about the concept of SEAL training that when you have to carry the raft around that there’s guys in the back ducking the boat and then there’s guys up front that are blocking the wind and leading,” Nix said. “We say that you’re a member of a team, but you’re the weakest part of that team. So, talking about that emphasis upfront, that in the playoffs, everyone has to contribute because everyone talks about how you can get life lessons from sports, but if you don’t point it out to these guys, a lot of them will miss some of those lessons.

“We’re trying to take, through that book study, some character aspects because it’s a long season. It’s five extra weeks of the season so it’s that visual reminder.”

While the raft is a nod to the rigorous training that SEALs like Brown had to go through, Alcoa added a more personal touch to its helmets this season with a sticker of the Batman logo that every Tornado player has placed on the back of their helmet as homage to Brown’s favorite comic book hero.

“We also have that Batman sticker on our helmet because Adam Brown was big into superheroes,” Nix said. “His kids had gotten him these Batman underwear as a gift and the night he was killed, he was wearing those underwear. They did a memorial for him in Arkansas where he was from and the biggest thing on that memorial was a Batman symbol, so that’s why those stickers are on the helmet. We always try to do that visual representation and hopefully it’s something that they remember.”

That representation didn’t take long for the team to understand and appreciate, especially for senior captain and quarterback Caden Buckles.

After just one week, players started clamoring for the opportunity to be the leaders in the front before the Pigeon Forge game, inspired by the lessons they took from watching SEAL training videos and the meaning behind the formation.

“After the first week when I walked over to the tunnel over there you had guys saying, ‘I want to carry it! I want to carry it,’” Buckles said. “So it’s definitely a thing that people look at and it’s just kind of an honor behind it. It’s a really cool feeling. The guys that run behind me, that carry that boat, they know it means something bigger than them. It’s a really cool thing.”

The raft isn’t the first prop that Nix has used as a postseason motivational tool. The tradition has been around since Nix arrived on staff in 2004 and has all been based on leadership-themed books that he has read and discussed with his players.

“The theme (in 2004) was ‘500 downs,’ because then it was so foreign to us,” Nix said. “Two years before that Alcoa was 2-8, so you know, we were just trying to motivate them and then the next year we did Molon Labe (Greek for ‘Come and Take’) which I got from a book. I read a lot and we’ve been doing it for 18 years.”

The book study was a new approach for Buckles when he joined the team last season as a transfer from Knoxville Catholic High School before helping lead the Tornadoes on a postseason run that ended with their sixth consecutive state title, but he appreciated the merit and used the approach to better himself in his preparation for each game he played in.

“The fact that we do a book study every year, I learned about it last year,” Buckles said. “Just all of the stories behind it and the things that you don’t really understand about the aspect of leadership that you’re taught throughout these five weeks, it makes a huge difference on everything you think about.”

Nix has repeated some of the same themes and book studies that he used with past teams, but there was something different about “Fearless” and how it related to the current Alcoa team, which will play for a state title game berth on Friday against Giles County at Goddard Field in the semifinals.

“I’ve been holding this one for the last four or five years and I felt like the timing was good because of this senior class,” Nix said. “I don’t know how tight they are off the field, but I think they’re tight on the field. I don’t think there’s any resentment. It’s just a lot of guys wanting to win, wanting to succeed. I wanted to do this as a leadership thing for them but also as a recognition of Adam.

“When you read a book, you feel like you get to know somebody and just the sacrifices that man made. What he did for us is definitely not forgotten.”

Follow @ByNoahTaylor on Twitter for more from sports reporter Noah Taylor.

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