Every year, the Military Bowl works with the Pentagon and local military bases to arrange a flyover as part of the pregame pomp and circumstance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The flyover before Wednesday’s kickoff between Tulane and Virginia Tech in Annapolis will feature two F-18 Super Hornets and a pair of pilots with connections to each other and the teams on the field.
One of the fighter jets will be piloted by Cmdr. Adam Stephens, a Tulane graduate and the commanding officer of VFC-12, a reserve adversary squadron based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. The other will be flown by Stephens’s executive officer, Cmdr. Elliott Shoup, who graduated from Virginia Tech.
“When the bowl selections came out and they announced the pairings, Elliott and I said, ‘Hey, this is awesome; we got to do it,’ ” Stephens said in a phone interview. “There’s not a ton of alumni in naval aviation for these two teams.”
“We thought the Virginia Tech-Tulane alumni thing was reasonably compelling and probably kind of rare,” Shoup said.
Military Bowl officials agreed and selected the duo to perform the flyover after Stephens initially expressed interest in the role to one of his contacts in the Tulane athletic department.
Stephens, who grew up in Baton Rouge, developed an early interest in fighter jets.
“I saw ‘Top Gun’ at a young age and decided that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
After graduating from the Navy ROTC program at Tulane in 2006, Stephens attended flight school. He returned to New Orleans from 2017 to 2019 but has been based in Virginia Beach since 2021 and was appointed commanding officer last year.
Shoup, a Falls Church native, attended St. Stephen’s School in Alexandria. He began flying with his dad, a private pilot, around age 7 and earned his private pilot’s license when he turned 18. A few years after graduating from Virginia Tech, where he studied aerospace engineering and watched Michael Vick lead the Hokies to an appearance in the 1999 national title game, Shoup decided he would rather be flying high-performance airplanes instead. He enrolled in flight school in 2005 and was flying F-18s by the fall of 2007.
Stephens and Shoup have done flyovers before but never alongside each other. Stephens performed the flyover at last year’s American Athletic Conference title game, which Tulane won to earn a spot in the Cotton Bowl. Shoup, who has performed a flyover at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, was the ground controller for that game, communicating via radio with Stephens, another pilot and the production crew to ensure they flew over the stadium at the precise time.
On Wednesday, Stephens and Shoup will take off from Joint Base Andrews about an hour before kickoff. They’ll fly to a designated spot about 10 miles from the stadium, where they’ll circle and await direction from Kevin Byerly, another Virginia Tech graduate based at Oceana, who will serve as their radio man on the ground. After the flyover at roughly 1,000 feet and more than 300 mph, they’ll return to Andrews, get in a car and head to the stadium, hoping to arrive by halftime.
“We love doing flyovers,” Stephens said. “It’s a cool recruitment opportunity. It lets people see us, and hopefully kids think, ‘Hey, I kind of want to do that.’ It’s exciting, and we love being a part of people’s experience during the game.”
Stephens is looking forward to seeing his alma mater in a bowl game in person. Last year, he was planning to go to the Cotton Bowl to see the Green Wave take on heavily favored Southern California, but his wife talked him out of it, suggesting Tulane would get destroyed. Instead, the Green Wave scored 16 points in the final four minutes of regulation to upset the Trojans, 46-45, in one of the most thrilling games of the bowl season.
“My roommates all through college went and were sending me videos throughout the game,” Stephens said. “I’m not going to miss that opportunity again.”
Stephens and Shoup wagered a bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor rye on the outcome of Wednesday’s game. Stephens doesn’t feel great about the Green Wave’s chances.
“I’m a little concerned for Tulane,” he said. “They lost their head coach [Willie Fritz, who was hired by Houston]. The quarterback [Michael Pratt] who set all the school records isn’t going to play. They will have their badass freshman running back [Makhi Hughes], but I think they may be a little one-dimensional, so I’m not talking any trash. I’m just there for a good time.”
“I think we’re both just happy that they’re in a bowl,” said Shoup, who follows the Hokies less closely now than he did before becoming a father of three but made it to a game in Blacksburg in October. “We’ll have families there, hopefully staying warm and having fun. It’s awesome that our two teams are playing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it.”