Army defensive lineman Joe Drummond sat with rapt attention as the coaching staff for the Medal of Honor Bowl Game addressed college football all-stars selected for the game that serves a scouting tool.
The coaches for the exhibition played on Jan. 10 in Charleston, S.C., included Chan Gailey, a former NFL head coach; Fisher DeBerry, a College Football Hall of Fame coach at Air Force; and Joe DeLamielleure and Chris Doleman, Pro Football Hall of Fame players.
“Everyone gets caught up in the on-the-field stuff, but the coaches emphasized the importance of your integrity, your honor and how you are viewed as a person off the field,” Drummond said. “That advice and counsel applied to everyone; that’s what I pulled from it. I’m looking forward to putting that into practice in my future life in the Army as an officer and as a regular person as well.”
Never mind that there is no doubt when the coaches spoke and gazed around the room, their eyes didn’t stop for emphasis on the West Point senior about the graduate and serve his country as a lieutenant in a time of war. It's safe to assume he already "gets it."
Drummond’s assigned branch is military intelligence and infantry; in other words he will be right in the middle of the ongoing war on terrorism.
The same could be said for four others in the room listening : service academy players Paul Quessenberry, a Navy defensive lineman; Will Conant, an Air Force kicker; and two Army veterans with bronze stars, Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez and Texas long-snapper Nate Boyer. They made their college rosters as walk-on athletes after they served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Drummond, trained as a West Point cadet to absorb information, chuckled when I said the lecture was intended for the civilian athletes in the room, but he responded:
“It was good advice for everybody. It was from people who’ve been there and done it. It was a special experience.”
Drummond is coming off a senior season that was the best of the 6-foot-2, 254-pounder’s four-year varsity career. He started all 12 games with 32 tackles to rank 10th on the team but second among defensive linemen. Remember, Army’s scheme is designed for the under-sized D-lineman to primarily tie up blockers to free linebackers for tackles.
As is typical of Army recruits, particularly direct admits such as Drummond, they were over-achievers that play little as a freshman and gradually earned more playing time. Drummond saw the field in 10 games with one start as sophomore and nine games with two starts as a junior.
“I didn’t expect to be invited to the all-star game,” Drummond said. “I figured the Army-Navy Game was it – the end of my career. A chance to compete with some of the best players in the country is an experience I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
As an accomplished high school senior at the Charles Finney School in Penfield, N.Y., Drummond was intrigued by the chance to serve his country at West Point. He also was realistic enough to recognize it was his best opportunity to continue his football career and play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
One of the plagues on modern American sports is an inability of athletes to admit they have hit their ceiling. Those are the college and pro athletes we hear about who cheat to get ahead with performance-enhancing drugs. Another is the number of deluded football and basketball players who leave school too early for their pro draft; most are left with unfulfilled careers and need to return to school to earn their degree.
Drummond has remained focused on his commitment to the country, even with the teaser of pro scouts at the Medal of Honor game telling him they hope he will participate in the pro day at West Point when scouts time and test athletes. It’s part of the routine for players from civilian colleges but wasn't on Drummond's radar.
“You’re around all these guys that are working on their draft stock and getting that contract and pursuing their dream of playing at the next level,” Drummond said. “Of course, there is that notion for me it would be really cool. I talked to a few scouts; I wasn’t planning to do the pro day, but I decided there is no harm to it.
“But the reason I went to West Point is to be an Army officer. I’m ready for the transition to work with the American soldier and defend this nation. That’s what expected when I committed and what I’m most looking forward to. And along the way I got a chance to play Army football.”
When Drummond enrolled in 2011, President Obama was in the final stages of bringing home troops from Iraq and the beginning phases of doing the same with troops in Afghanistan.
But the world remains a violent place with new challenges from various fronts of terrorism. Drummond and his classmates knew this when they committed to West Point.
“Of course, you wish we lived on a more peaceful planet,” Drummond said. “But that’s not realistic. There will always be conflict and people who want to attack this country. Our job as West Point graduates and Army officers is to do what the nation asks in order to defend it."
“I’m excited to be a part of it and lead whom I believe are the best people on Earth – the American soldiers. I’ll be working with the best team – the military. I’ll be working with spectacular people who are heroes. I’m looking forward to joining the Army after graduation.”
Tom Shanahan has featured Army, Navy and Air Force players for more than 20 years in the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Raleigh News and Observer. He has covered Army football since 2011, including Army-Navy games. He agrees with best-selling author John Feinstein, who wrote in his 1996 book on the Army-Navy rivalry, "A Civil War," that everyone should see the Army-Navy Game at least once.