To the left and to the right stood Elijah Hynes’ former teammates. Nestled in between his fingers and on his shoulders was the American flag.
Hynes ran out with the Wolverines in their game against Athens Academy last Friday night carrying the American flag on the same day in which he officially graduated from boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
It was moment where his past met his present and future.
“These are some of the brothers that I was fighting my battles with on the field and now I’m about to go and fight battles on the other field,” Hynes said.
Hynes spent the last four years as a member of the PACS football team. The last two seasons saw Hynes earn All-Region honors for his performance as a wide receiver and defensive back for the Wolverines.
Like many of his fellow upperclassmen, Hynes was grappling with a decision about his future. While they decided on what colleges they wanted to attend, Hynes tried decide if he would attend college at all.
Hynes took a visit out to Bakersfield, California where he visited Camp Hamilton. Hynes returned from the trip unimpressed.
Over time, joining the marines became the easy choice. Hynes’ family background has military all over it. His father, Chappy Hynes, was a marine. His uncle and grandfather were also both marines.
The opportunity to travel the world and one day come back to football at the college level was also part of Hynes’ decision to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
“My grandpa was a marine, my dad was a marine and my uncle was a marine,” Hynes said. “I just wanted to serve this country. I prayed about it and asked the Lord if I should go to college or go to the marine corp. He led me to join the marine corp. I want to travel the world and ultimately play football when I get out. I think that five years in the marine corp. will help me mature physically, mentally and spiritually to be able to play at that level.”
Hynes comes from a military family on one side. The other features a heavy past in football. His uncle is former University of Georgia and University of Miami head coach Mark Richt. His cousins, Jon Richt, Max Johnson and Jake Johnson have all had success on the gridiron in the area in recent years.
The love for sports was only natural for Hynes growing up. Football especially. For Hynes, there are a lot similarities between the marine corp. and his days as a football player. The brotherhood between players and solders alike is the first natural comparison. The team-first mentality also translates.
“It’s not a one-man thing, it’s a team thing,” Hynes said. “You always have to rely on each other. On the football field, all 11 of you are relying on the other guy to get the right block and this guy to shoot the right gap. In the marines and you’re on the battlefield you’re relying on this guy to look the right way and give the right command and for the people behind the computers to send the right things and know what they’re doing.”
Seeing the impact that the military has had on former solders is something Hynes wanted to experience for himself. Seeing the high-energy and disciplined nature of his father and the clean-cut, business like nature of his recruiter reached out to the youngest Hynes.
“Being around people in the marine corp. and seeing how they act and how they carry themselves and my dad and how he’s always lively and going,” Hynes said. “The marine corp. was a big part of his life and I just want to experience it for myself and do what I can do to help people... My recruiter, didn’t force me into signing either, I just love the man. To see how he represents the marine corp. and how he carries himself made me just want to be like him.”
Once his mind was made up, Hynes dove head first into his coming departure to boot camp until they day he left.
On his first day reporting to Parris Island Hynes admits the nerves hit him. Thoughts of the long stretches of time he was about to face without seeing or hearing from his family members began to run through his head.
Hynes considered coming back home.
“I went in there thinking I was a tough guy and this is going to be easy,” Hynes said. “I went in and the day I left it hit me. I’m not going to see my family. I’m not going to hear from them. I’m leaving everything that I’ve known for three months. I kind of started doubting why I joined and I didn’t want to be there. The first couple weeks it was really mentally challenging. I just wanted to come back and live with my parents for the rest of my life and I didn’t really care what anyone thought of me.”
As the weeks progressed, Sunday chapels and the testimonies of marines going through training settled Hynes. Hynes looked back knowing that his father, uncle and grandfather had all gone through the same process he was going through.
“My dad was on those yellow footprints, my granddad and uncle were also there and they did it,” Hynes said. “All the kids around me are about to do it. I’m not alone. My brothers in platoon helped me. We all pushed each other. A couple weeks in I was just like, we’re doing this thing.”
Hynes graduated as his company’s Iron man, an award that goes to the most physically fit. After tying with three other recruits Hynes won a plank contest in which he doesn’t know how long he stayed up.
“I don’t know how long I went, but I just went longer than that guy,” Hynes said with a laugh.