A USAA commercial aired throughout the 2013 football season featured three service academy alums – Army’s Collin Mooney, Navy’s Eric Kettani and Air Force’s Chad Hall – that have served their country and landed jobs in the NFL.
They “took they road less traveled,” as they put it in the commercial. In this age of the overpaid entitled athlete, the NFL couldn’t ask for a better advertising from its own marketing division.
And Army – from its West point grads to its enlisted men -- couldn’t buy better advertising than Tennessee Titans second-year fullback Collin Mooney and Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker Josh McNary have earned for West Point. They’ve added to their bio “NFL veteran” in addition to military veteran.
Steve Anderson, who played linebacker at Army with Mooney, West Point Class of 2009, and McNary, West Point Class of 2011, has followed his old teammates’ progress with pride. Anderson played with McNary in Army’s 2010 win over SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, but a knee injury during his career pushed his West Point graduation back six months to December 2011.
From West Point graduation 1st Lt. Anderson was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for his graduate training. He’s been through infantry training as well as Ranger and Airborne. He’s Bradley Commander certified. He’s spent the past year serving as a platoon leader with 164th Armor at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., near Savannah
“After our bowl game I pretty much thought my career was over,” Anderson said. “I was ready to focus on a new chapter of my life – being the best platoon leader and best officer I could be. I really focused on that. I gave up my dreams of the NFL.”
But he’s a football player at heart, so it didn’t take too many Sunday afternoons watching Mooney and McNary in NFL uniforms for him to start to wonder.
“I don’t want to have any regrets,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to have regrets that I didn’t try to play on Sunday. Once I decided to try, I’ve been on a strict diet. I eat right and I don’t drink any alcohol. If I went through this and I didn’t give diet and training the right attention, I would have to wonder for the next 50 years. I want to eliminate ‘the ifs.’”
The Pentagon approved adjustments its five-year commitment policy for service academy graduates after Army’s Caleb Campbell was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2008. Graduates that want to try the NFL can opt out after two years, but they must still fulfill their five-year commitment in the reserves. Mooney has been with Army’s recruiting office since he joined the Titans’ in 2012.
Anderson began talking with McNary, and he provided him with advice on how to earn a chance with an NFL team. One crucial element is a cooperative chain of command and Anderson said he’s received such support. He began working out in December with a personal trainer who prepares other NFL prospects for combines.
Anybody who has been through Ranger training is in condition for the NFL, but football shape is another matter. Anderson played his senior year at Army as a 5-foot-10, 225-pounder, but he’ll tip the scales at 235.
“It’s a lot of fun doing these football drills again,” Anderson said. “It’s like riding a bike. “I’ve been doing a lot of linebacker-specific drills I’ve been doing my whole life. I just haven’t done them for a while.”
Anderson’s trainer has him on a 12-week program to peak for a NFL regional camp at the Baltimore Ravens’ facility in Owens Mill, Md.
In the last couple of years, the NFL has expanded its combine opportunities for free-agent prospects. The long-standing national combine in Indianapolis is designed for top draft prospects. For players looking a chance to sign as a free agent, there are regional combines around the country followed a Super Regional.
Anderson will have to perform well at the March 29 regional combine to be invited to the Super Regional in Detroit. McNary earned his free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts at after he was invited to the Super Regional in Dallas and performed well enough to catch the attention of several teams.
McNary jokes he already knows his “worst combine drill” will be his 5-foot-10 height. But that’s the same lack of height that left him lightly recruited with Division I coaches convinced he couldn’t play at that level, and he proved them wrong.
Anderson needs to demonstrate his football IQ and his nose for the ball. His challenge at the combine will be to perform well enough he can land in and NFL training camp and have enough time to show those intangibles that can’t be measured at a combine.
Another intangible that helps him is the confidence he’s received from McNary, his teammate all four years at West Point.
“Josh has given me a lot of confidence,” Anderson said. “He knows the player I am. He tells me, ‘Man, you can play in this level. You’re a smart enough player and good enough player.’ All I want is an opportunity.”
With Anderson turning to McNary for advice, the Black Knights have a nice little relay running to the NFL that Anderson may have to uphold… Mooney to McNary to Anderson.
“I’m sure Caleb helped Collin when he was coming out,” Anderson said. “Cameron Craig tried too. There are a lot of guys that tried to do it and will continue to try it. It’s nice seeing some Army Black Knights out there on Sunday.”