Story by Miles Lee Elder, U.S. Army
FORT KNOX, Ky. – Two former Tennessee Titans were among a group of tandem parachute jumpers on Wednesday with the world-renowned Army Golden Knights parachute team.
Former kickoff return specialist Marc Mariani and strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson were among the first group out the door during a tandem parachute camp held at the headquarters of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. The pair were chosen for the jump by the leadership of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Nashville.
"Oh my gosh," Mariani sighed just moments after landing. "It was one of the most unreal experiences in my life with the best of the best, the Army Golden Knights."
Mariani, 31, admitted to some initial fear with his first parachute jump. However, he credited his tandem partner, Golden Knights' Staff Sgt. Luke Olk, with helping him follow through on an overcast morning in central Kentucky.
"I was scared out of my mind, but they put me at ease," Mariani said. "The adrenaline rush and the freefall coming out of the sky was on a whole other level.
"When I got to the door, there was no fear. When I got to that door, I was ready."
Watterson, who retired after more than 30 years with the team earlier this year, said today's jump fulfilled a long-standing wish for him.
"It surpassed any possible imagination that I could have," Watterson said. "Being in pro sports my entire career, men in sports always want to have control.
"It was totally trust and relinquish all control to the person you're jumping with."
Like Mariani, Watterson had praise for his Golden Knights' tandem partner, Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Espinosa.
"She is special," Watterson said. "I had no fears at all jumping with her.
"She gave me all the confidence in the world."
The pair join the ranks of Titans' members who have done tandem jumps with the Golden Knights in recent months. Both Titans' owner Amy Adams Strunk and former wide receiver Dr. Kevin Dyson jumped with team members last year.
The jump was in doubt as an early morning rain storm delayed the flight schedule. However, once the clouds broke, the pair quickly donned their yellow and black flights suits and made their jumps from 8,000 feet.
Watterson and Mariani began their day hearing from Army leaders including Col. Eric Lopez, commander of the 3rd U.S. Army Recruiting Brigade, and Lt. Col. Rick Frank, who commands the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Nashville. Both officers stressed the need to work with the Army in its quest to recruit qualified young men and women into today's Army.
Both Watterson and Mariani said they were impressed with the way the event was carried out despite the challenges posed by the weather.
"The thing that stood out for me was from the moment we arrived they told us what was going to happen, how it was going to happen, what their responsibilities were going to be and what we needed to do to make it a great jump," Watterson said. "By the time you got up there, you had such confidence.
"That communication and leadership was incredible."
First formed in 1959, the Golden Knights serve as the Army's official parachute team and compete and perform around the world. The tandem section is known for taking soldiers, celebrities and heads of state on jumps, and the competition section focuses on winning national and international skydiving events.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the career of former Titans Strength and Conditioning coach Steve Watterson. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP, Gary Glenn)
Titans Online looks back at the career of WR/KR Marc Mariani. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)