The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SPORTS

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

It’s NFL Draft Weekend! Besides the excitement of seeing our favorite college athletes make it to the pros, we also get to learn about the players themselves and their stories.

One of my favorite stories comes from the 1995 NFL Draft. It’s about a player who was drafted that didn’t even like football, but used his talent in the sport to help others. It’s a great message that has application outside professional football.


When Curtis Martin was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2012, he shared something with the crowd. Even though he was now a Hall of Fame running back, he wasn’t a fan of the game — matter of fact he didn’t even like football or running. At first glance, you might think he wasted valuable years of his life doing something he didn’t like, but in reality it was the opposite. He spent his NFL career playing for a purpose. Playing football helped him achieve his “Why,” which was to help others.

In the book “Die Empty,” author Todd Henry writes, “In [Martin’s] rookie season with the Patriots, [he] began committing a minimum of 12% of his paycheck to his newly formed Job Foundation, which he formed to help single mothers and disadvantaged youth.” He kept with football because it gave him a platform to help his mother and other people who struggled to help themselves. During his acceptance speech, Hall said the following:

Most of these guys have lived for the game of football and eat, breath, sleep football. I was someone who was somewhat forced to play football. I can remember draft day like it was yesterday. My family and I were sitting around and were watching the draft. The phone rings and it’s Bill Parcells. I answer the phone and say, “Hello,” and Parcells says, “Curtis, we want to know if you’re interested in being a New England Patriot?” I said, “Yes, yes, sir.” And we hang up the phone. As soon as we hang up the phone I turn around to everyone and I said, “Oh my gosh, I do not want to play football.”

No, you’re laughing, but this is the truth. I turned around and said, “I don’t want to play football. I don’t even know that I like football enough to try to make a career out of it.” My pastor at the time was a guy by the name of Leroy Joseph, and I’m so glad he was there to talk some sense into me. He says, “Curtis, look at it this way, man.” He said, “Maybe football is just something that God is giving you to do all those wonderful things that you say you want to do for other people.” I tell you, it was like a light bulb came on in my head.

That became my connection with football. I don’t know if he wouldn’t have said that to me if football would have gotten out of me what it got out of me. I definitely wouldn’t be standing here. And ever since he said that, I knew the only way I was going to be successful at this game called football is if I played for a purpose that was bigger than the game itself because I knew that the love for the game just wasn’t in my heart.

His story illustrates the importance of connecting our lives to a higher purpose and understanding our “Why.” By knowing that he wanted to help people, Martin took a career path that gave him a stage to potentially help far more people than he might have otherwise. His purpose motivated him to play at a level greater than that of other players.

When we follow Martin’s example, and make that connection between action and purpose, our performance will always be better than if those two are disconnected. It will also give us fulfillment, something that many of us spend our entire lives chasing. Martin’s connection not only let him help others, it led him to the NFL Hall of Fame.

As you watch the Draft this weekend, pay attention to the stories. You never know, you might hear one like Martin’s and it could change your life.

For another great story about this year’s draft, watch:

MIGHTY SPORTS

Veterans surf their way to recovery

Michael Fumarola didn’t see the rush of ocean as he sped toward the beach and toppled from his surfboard. He face-planted in the wet, goopy sand and gulped the salty water.

Red-faced and gasping for a quick breath, the blind veteran with multiple sclerosis from the Cincinnati VA Medical Center sucked in some San Diego air and couldn’t help but smile.

“That was great!” he yelled.

His instructor, Felipe Rueff, slapped his hands on both sides of his face.

“Atta boy! Do it again?”

“You betcha!”


Fumarola is one of more than 130 veterans from across the nation in San Diego, California, Sept. 15 to 20, 2019, for VA’s National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. The annual event, presented with the Wounded Warrior Project, brings amputee, paralyzed, blind, and other veterans to learn adaptive surfing, kayaking, sailing, hand cycling and more.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Michael Fumarola gives a high five after coming in from the surf.

(Photo by John Archiquette)

Empower and develop

“This is one of the highlights of VA’s commitment to veterans,” said Dave Tostenrude, acting director of the Summer Sports Clinic. “This is one of those events that reaches a broader range of vets.

“What we’re looking for are vets looking to make changes in their lives, and we don’t care where they come from or what their issues are, we’re going to work with them, we’re going to empower them and develop a plan to be active at home.”

Dana Cummings, a Marine Corps veteran who only learned to surf after he lost a leg in a car accident, brought his company, AmpSurf, to the clinic to give the veterans one-on-one training.

“Listen,” he told the veterans before they hit the water, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine. I tried this before I lost a leg and failed miserably, now I do it all the time. It’s going to be a lot of fun and you’re going to have a great time.”

Cummings went over the basics of surfing, then vets, instructors and volunteers hit the surf.

“Hell, yeah, let’s do it!” said Brandon Starkey, a veteran who lost his leg in a car crash 15 days after coming home from Iraq. “If someone says they can’t do this, I call them a liar, because the only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves.”

Fumarola was wheeled down to the surf in a special wheelchair with wide wheels, made to run over the wet sand.

“You think you’ll be able to do it?” someone asked.

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out,” he laughed. “I’ve never done it. But you gotta do it to find out. Someone doesn’t want to try it, that’s just B.S.”

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Bobby Hutchinson says coming to Summer Sports was part of his transformation to get out of the house, despite an amputation.

(Photo by John Archiquette)

First time for everything

A few feet down the beach, Bobby “Hutch” Hutchinson, who lost a leg in Desert Storm, was still able to get up on one knee as he rode the surf to the beach.

“Hey, I’m surfing, or trying to, anyway,” he said. “I got up on one knee, tried to get up and kind of wiped out, but I’m having a blast. There’s a first time for everything and here I am. I told some friends I was doing this and they said I’d better videotape it because they want to make fun of me.”

But for Hutchinson, from the St. Louis VA, it was about more than just a day at the beach.

“It’s about getting out of the house and having something to look forward to,” he said. “It gives you hope, you know? It gives you something to try, something different. It’s always good to try something new and color outside the box.”

It was also emotional for the instructors.

“I’ve been surfing for 47 years and teaching for 11,” Rueff said. “You see these guys drain the water, riding it all the way into the beach, it’s great. There is a healing power to the water. You can’t tell because I’m all wet, but I get really emotional.”

Fumarola said it was an experience he’ll never forget.

“I enjoyed the hell out of it. I learned I can do it. There ain’t nothing I can’t do. Life is great. Love it! Live it!”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Women’s Soccer — Army West Point at Navy (Friday, 10/12, 7:00PM EST)

The 2018 Star Match between the Army and Navy women’s soccer teams lies ahead this Friday night at 7 p.m. in Annapolis. A key part of the Star Series presented by USAA, the Mids will host their service academy rivals from New York in a matchup of two of the Patriot League’s top-five teams.

Navy comes into the contest at the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility with a 8-4-3 record and a 4-1 mark in Patriot League play, while Army will enter at 6-3-5, 2-2-1 in league action.


MIGHTY SPORTS

Why you should play sports if you want to be a fighter pilot

Looking back, sports prepared me for flying fighters more than anything else. You develop thick skin playing sports—you learn how to lose, how to accept criticism, how to prepare, how to handle pressure; you grow you in a way that’s difficult to find outside of sports. Different sports teach different attributes, particularly team versus individual ones, but they all have parallels to what we do in the air.

Team sports, as the name implies, teach teamwork—you learn how to work together to build trust. As a group, you must come together to accomplish a shared vision; often with people who come from completely different backgrounds. It is a complex, messy process that doesn’t have a set formula. I played baseball, all the way from t-ball throughout high school and each year we would try to build a cohesive, effective team—failing as often as we succeeded. It was practice though. By the time I got to my first fighter squadron, I had been a part of probably 30 teams. It was easier to integrate, find my role, and start contributing than if I hadn’t had my sports background.

fighter pilot
You may be alone in the cockpit, but teamwork is still essential.

Another attribute I learned is situational leadership. As my skill and experience grew relative to the team I was on, my leadership style had to change. As a freshman in high school and one of the weaker players, my job was to shut up, work hard, and do the jobs the other players didn’t want to do. By the time I was a senior, I was one of the better players and a captain on the team. Part of my job was to hold people accountable, which meant being more assertive.

As a fighter pilot, after you spend four years becoming an officer, two years in pilot training, and a year learning to fly your fighter, you’ll show up to your first squadron and your primary job will be to stock the snack bar. Just like the new freshman on a sports team, the best thing you can do is shut up, learn your job, and volunteer for the tasks no-one else wants to do. As your skill and experience grow relative to the other pilots, your leadership style will have to evolve. 

Preparation is another trait I learned. Similar to being a fighter pilot, in sports the vast majority of your time is spent training. While boxing at the Air Force Academy, we would spend hours each day preparing for a six-minute fight. The training, in most cases, lagged the results, often by months. If you didn’t wake up at 5AM for your daily morning run, no-one would know until fight day when you were exhausted by the time you got to the third round.

fighter pilot
(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

Flying fighters is similar. We train for years before we go into combat. As a multi-role, single seat fighter pilot, there is always something you could be better at. The learning never stops. We have thousands of pages of tactics to memorize and with closure rates averaging a mile every three-seconds, it has to be instinctive by the time you get to combat. 

The most important attribute sports taught me was mental toughness—how to thrive in a high pressure environment. As a boxer you’re in the ring alone. No-one else can help you. If you’re distracted and having a bad day, you can get hurt. Leading up to the fight, you know there is an opponent working his hardest to knock you out in front of your friends and family.

At the Air Force Academy, we would have sports psychologists from the Olympic training center make the 15 minute drive to work with us. They taught us visualization, positive self-talk, and how to stay in the present moment. While the stakes are much higher now—we not only have our own lives to worry about, but our wingmen, other airborne assets, and the troops on the ground—I still find myself using what they taught me on a daily basis.

Sports are a training ground for your mind and body. They allow you to grow in a simplistic environment, under pressure, with short feedback cycles. You learn that through deliberate practice you will improve. Having had a chance to instruct many F-16 and F-35 pilots, the better ones usually have a sports background. It doesn’t matter if they were a star, or if they only played in high school—the important thing is they have the tools to get better each flight while contributing to the squadron. 

Make sure to check out Justin Lee’s podcast, The Professionals Playbook!

Feature image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY SPORTS

The new Army Football uniforms will be in honor of the Big Red One

Every second Saturday of December, the soldiers of West Point settle their differences with the sailors and Marines of Annapolis in a good, old-fashioned football game. It’s a fiercely heated contest — and not just for the players on the field, but between entire branches.

Remember, when it comes to the troops, any little thing that can be used as bragging rights will be — even the uniforms are a type of competition. Traditionally, each team dons a new military history-inspired uniform for the Army-Navy game. Bringing the best threads to the gridiron isn’t officially a contest, but if it were, hot damn the Army would be winning.


The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

It’s unclear at this time if all Cadets on the field will be wearing the Black Lion or just the ones wearing the 28th Infantry Regiment on their lapel.

(West Point Athletics)

This year, the soldiers are honoring the First Infantry Division by sporting a uniform inspired by the Big Red One. It was chosen because 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. While there were many American units that fought, several of whom are still around, the 1st ID is often heralded for their decisive victory at the Battle of Cantigny.

The iconic Black Lions of Cantigny have been incorporated into the shoulders of the uniforms. The rest of the uniform is a flat black with red trimmings. It features, of course, the Nike logo (the team’s sponsor) and the unit insignia. On the collars are insignias that represent the various regiments of the 1st Infantry Division that fought in World War I.

On the back of the helmet, if you look closely, you’ll spot a subtle American flag. Sharp football fans will notice that the flag only has 48 stars on it. Keeping with WWI legacy, this was the flag that the soldiers of WWI fought under, long before Alaska and Hawaii became part of the Union in 1959.

Check out the announcement video below that was posted to the official Army West Point Athletics Facebook page.

Go Army! Beat Navy!

MIGHTY SPORTS

This is how the Army ended up with a mule for a mascot

Take a look at the jerseys for the sports teams of the United States Military Academy at West Point. At first glance, you’d probably assume that their mascot is a golden knight — which is strange, because they’re known as the “Black Knights.” What’s even more strange is that their mascot isn’t a knight at all; it’s a mule.

That’s right. The West Point mascot is the crossbreed between a horse and a donkey — just as it is for the rest of the US Army. It isn’t the best looking animal by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it anywhere close to being the most majestic. But all of the things it represents — strength, wisdom, and stubbornness determination — sum up the Army as a whole.


The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

And the U.S. Army has been using mules ever since.

(U.S. Army)

Shortly after Army and Navy football teams first met on the gridiron in 1890, both sides went to working coming up with a mascot. The Navy was first to field one. The goat named named El Cid made his first appearance in 1893 at the fourth meeting between the two branches. Navy tried out a few mascots over the years, but eventually decided that the goat was their best choice. Since 1904, they’ve been represented by the cleverly named Bill the Goat.

The Army, however, didn’t waiver between selections. They quickly settled on and stuck with the mule, as the animal has a rich history within the military. In fact, the earliest accounts of mules being recognized for their warfare potential date all the way back to the dawn of recorded history in Egypt. Even George Washington was fond of mules, having been the first to raise them in the colonies. He was the driving force behind their use by the Revolutionary Army.

West Point officially adopted the mule as their mascot in 1899, but the life of an animal mascot was a little different back then. Instead of selecting a single animal to enjoy some pampered time in the spotlight, the Army would simply select a random mule from the stables to proudly march about the field. They continued this practice for roughly forty years.

If the Army was playing a home game, they’d borrow one from a nearby handler. If they were playing an away game, they’d try to find one wherever they ended up — typically, a less-than-successful endeavor. In 1939, the Army decided to finally settle on a single, official mascot. A mule named Mr. Jackson became the first Army mule.

While many mules have since taken on this duty, it’s important to note that at least one mule in the stable must always be named Ranger after the elite infantrymen. This is part of a stipulation put in place by Steven Townes, a graduate of West Point from the class of 1975, former mule rider and Army Ranger. Townes would eventually become the CEO and founder of Ranger Aerospace LLC. after his military career concluded.

As his way of giving back to West Point, the Ranger regiment he served in, and the mules he once cared for, he established an endowment to forever fund, house, and maintain the mules at West Point. For his generosity, he has unofficially been granted the title of “mule donor in perpetuity.”

MIGHTY SPORTS

After losing her leg in Iraq, Army vet shares life on social media

The alarm goes off early, like it always does.

Melissa Stockwell has another busy day at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where she’ll swim, run, bike, and go through strength training for hours on end.

Then, like most moms, it’s a rush to fit in as much family time with her husband and 2- and 4-year-old children as the clock allows: pick up the kids, take them to swim lessons, grab dinner, read them a story, and get them tucked into bed.

In between, she might send an inspirational photo or tweet to her 7,000-plus social media followers.

It’s not just the mom-athlete thing that makes Stockwell special.

She does it all with one leg.


Stockwell was an Army officer in Iraq when she lost her left leg in a roadside bomb. She competed in swimming in the 2008 Paralympic Games, won the bronze medal in triathlon for the 2016 Games, and is currently training with hopes of making the U.S. team for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

And people think she’s pretty rad.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Melissa Stockwell shows her Purple Heart certificate while still recovering in the hospital. She said there were others in the hospital worse off than her, so she didn’t feel sorry for herself.

“To the mailman who yelled out ‘you’re an American badass’ as I was on #6/10 of my hill repeats, thank you. You sure lit that fire for the last 4,” she tweeted out Aug. 16, 2019.

“There weren’t a lot of ‘poor me’ kind of days. I did my rehab at Walter Reed, and was surrounded by a lot of soldiers who lost a lot more than I did. It almost wasn’t fair to feel sorry for myself. I chose to accept my leg early on.” — Melissa Stockwell, discussing her recovery after losing her leg in Iraq

Stockwell is just as likely to post a video of herself training in the gym, a poolside photo with her prosthetic leg, or a poignant goodbye letter to her service dog, Jake, she lost last year. Plus, there are plenty of posts about her children and mom life.

“I just saw a mom grocery shopping with 2 sets of twins, and another boy who all looked to be under 6 years old. If I ever get overwhelmed with momming for two, I’ll remember her. Her and my sister with 5 kids. Ah, perspective… ” she tweeted recently.

Or this inspirational burst first thing in the day: “This morning I took a moment to look around and just appreciate being alive. Take some time to do that today, it’s a day changer.”

And on many Fridays, you can find her posing with Old Glory for a #FlagFriday post.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Army Veteran Melissa Stockwell typically posts photos of herself and her love of the American flag on her Twitter feed. “This is me,” she said. “This is the beauty of America.”

“I’m proud of our country, that’s all,” she said. “This is me. This is the beauty of America. We all get to think and choose what we want, whether or not we agree on what everyone says or how they express it. I’m going to choose to express myself this way, but that’s the beauty of our country.”

Whatever she posts, she said, it’s not for ego.

“I do the things in my life because I enjoy them,” Stockwell said. “I like to be busy. I like having dreams. I don’t do anything to impress anybody. I guess I do it so I can inspire someone else — if not for those who came before me, but those who came after who can think, ‘I can do this, also.’

“Look, I have hard days, too,” she added. “Not everyone is perfect. I post pictures of my kids and dreams because that makes it more real. If someone is having a hard day and sees my posts, maybe they’re a mom, maybe they’re having trouble with their kids, I want to inspire them that there’s always tomorrow.”

That’s pretty much been her attitude since April 13, 2004, when she lost her leg.

“There weren’t a lot of ‘poor me’ kind of days,” she said. “I did my rehab at Walter Reed, and was surrounded by a lot of soldiers who lost a lot more than I did. It almost wasn’t fair to feel sorry for myself. I chose to accept my leg early on.”

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Melissa Stockwell fits a lot into her day between family life and training. She posts regularly about her life for more than 7,000 followers on Twitter.

Getting into adaptive sports

Despite countless surgeries and infections, she took her first steps on her prosthetic leg 52 days after getting injured. Stockwell started adaptive sports and hasn’t looked back. She focused on the Paralympics after meeting fellow athlete and veteran John Register in 2005. She made the 2008 team, but didn’t medal.

“I learned that in life, sometimes the journey is more important than the destination,” she wrote on her web site. “And as I carried that American flag into that sold out Bird’s Nest Stadium at the closing ceremony, I had never been so proud. A proud American. And a proud Paralympian.”

Her friend, Keri Serota, said the Melissa Stockwell people see online, is the same in person.

“You know, I think what she does is amazing,” Serota said. “It’s hard not to be motivated, moved and inspired by Melissa. I always considered myself a proud American, but I learned more about what that means from Melissa. She makes you pause and realize what it means to be an American and why we have that freedom.

“But she’s also my best friend and I get to spend a lot of time with her and she has no ego. It’s this relatability. She has been in the room with all the living presidents, but she doesn’t take that for granted or have an ego about it. It’s very much Melissa. She can be with President Bush one day and buying ice cream for her kids the next day. She shares all of it — the highlights, lowlights, successes and losses. People, whether they know her or not, have that relationship with her because she is so impressive and exciting, but humble and grateful.”

She first met Bush after he invited her and other wounded Veterans to his ranch, and got to dance with him, a moment caught in an iconic photo shared around the world. She also gave the Pledge of Allegiance at his library opening.

“He’s amazing,” she said of the former president. “He is accountable for the actions taken while he was in office, and he has always gone above and beyond to show he has not forgotten the lives he impacted. I think that’s wonderful. That’s a pretty great man.”

Besides training, she also started the nonprofit Dare2Tri along with Serota and another friend, and signed endorsement deals with Toyota and Under Armour.

Back on the home front, beyond the training center and social media spotlight, Stockwell focuses on raising her son, Dallas, born in 2014; and daughter, Millie, born in 2017.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Melissa Stockwell posted a tweet of thanks to Barbie after her daughter got a doll with a prosthetic leg for her birthday.

“Sometimes I forget she is an amputee,” said her husband, Brian Tolsma. “She doesn’t let it define her, and she is so driven and motivated. She does a lot of things people with two legs can’t do.

“But it always goes back to the kids for me,” he said. “I know the regiment she does during the day, beating up her body daily to get faster, to reach that goal. Then she comes home and it’s just an abundance of energy and patience with the kids. She’s always going, and always has time for the kids, always coming up with new activities. That’s the most impressive thing about her.”

Millie recently celebrated her 2nd birthday. She received a Barbie Doll with a prosthetic leg from Serota, which also made its way to Stockwell’s Twitter page.

“It just shows kids we are just like anybody else,” she said. “Why can’t we have parties and dolls? Kids can play with them and see we are normal, no different,” Stockwell said.

And that’s why she doesn’t mind posting photos online or showing off her red, white and blue, American-themed prosthetic in public.

“If I can educate, I will,” she added. “I am proud to have worn the uniform. I’m proud of how I lost my leg. Plus, it’s really cool to look at. Technology has come so far, even in the past 10, 15 years. Veterans are coming back home and they’re young, they’re active.

“They’re going to continue to help advance the field of prosthetics because they aren’t going to take no for an answer.”

You can follow Melissa’s journey on her web site, Twitter and Facebook.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Six veterans who became famous sports icons

The military promotes values that are not just essential on the battlefield or during training, but applicable to other areas of life. Teamwork, sacrifice, and competitiveness are essential tenets of the military that are also essential in any sport. Given this association, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many successful athletes served in the military prior to excelling in their respective sports. Here are six sports legends who exemplified greatness both in their service and athletic careers. 

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football
The San Diego Chargers’ head coach Marty Schottenheimer gives an autograph to Lt. Ryan Phillips aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during the Chargers’ visit to the ship.

Marty Schottenheimer

Marty Schottenheimer was an NFL coach for 21 years, and despite never winning a Super Bowl, he is one of only eight coaches to reach 200 regular-season victories. Like all great coaches, Schottenheimer’s excellence isn’t limited to his numbers. He created “Martyball,” a gritty, simple style which he explained in an interview for ESPN: “Run the ball, don’t throw interceptions, don’t fumble the ball, and then, at the end of the day, if you are able to do those things, you are going to win a bunch of games.” 

Schottenheimer was nicknamed “The Great Resurrector“ for his ability to turn losing teams upside down. He best showcased that skill in the 2004 season, when he led the San Diego Chargers to a 12-4 record after a 4-12 mark on the previous one. He was named Coach of the Year that season. 

Schottenheimer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 and recently passed away on February 8, 2021.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football
Gregg Popovich as an Air Force cadet.

Gregg Popovich

Popovich is widely regarded as one of the top five coaches in basketball history. Currently the head coach for the San Antonio Spurs and the U.S.A. Basketball men’s team, Popovich served in the Air Force for five years prior to starting his basketball career. His personality and coaching style is very much shaped by military values such as honesty, accountability, teamwork, and camaraderie. This piece, Michelin restaurants and fabulous wines: Inside the secret team dinners that have built the Spurs’ dynasty, illustrates with great detail how Popovich constantly applies a meticulous, larger-than-basketball, and collectively-oriented approach not just to coaching his team, but also in his personal life.

Popovich’s experience in the military helped him not only survive but thrive in one of the most competitive professional environments in the world: having won five NBA titles as a head coach of the Spurs, he is the only coach in NBA history, along with Phil Jackson and John Kundla, to win five or more NBA championships with the same team. He also is, by far, the longest-tenured NBA head coach having signed with the San Antonio Spurs in December of 1996. The next coach on the list? Erik Spoelstra, who has been Miami Heat’s head coach since April 2008. 

But these numbers alone don’t reflect the brilliance of Popovich’s career. In a league known for frequent changes of coaches, Popovich has not only managed to win consistently at the highest level, but has also created one of the most powerful and iconic basketball cultures worldwide, with teams always known for their passing, defense, and individual sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. 

“I know who I am and it started in the military where they broke me down to zero and put me in a box… And didn’t care if I was this, that or the other in high school. I was nothing. And they built me back up so that I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do. I knew my strengths. I knew my place. I knew it wasn’t all about me. I knew it was about teamwork. And that’s how I live. That’s the deal,” Popovich said in a 2012 address to a crowd of All-Army, All-Air Force, All-Navy, and All-Marine Corps players.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football
Former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson speaks with a U.S. Army All-American West Team family member at the Blossom Athletic Center in San Antonio, Dec. 31, 2012. (U.S. Army Photo)

David Robinson

Widely regarded as one of the best power forwards in basketball history, San Antonio Spurs and NBA legend David Robinson is also known as “The Admiral” because of his service in the Navy from 1983 to 1987, after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Robinson’s impact in the NBA is remarkable. He won two NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs, a team that epitomized collective play under head coach Gregg Popovich. Robinson is one of only five players in NBA history to record a quadruple-double, which consists of recording 10 or more in four of the following categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocks. Robinson recorded 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks on February 17, 1994. The Admiral features a unique basketball resume which includes Rookie of the Year, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, two NBA championships, and three Olympic medals (two golds and a bronze). In 2017, the NBA included Robinson in an official list of the best 50 players in the league’s history.

During his service as a midshipman, Robinson worked as a civil engineer and helped the Navy’s recruiting efforts. 

“I know the price that people pay to serve our country, and so it’s just a blessing to be able to come in and encourage the families here that are paying that price for us,” he said in one of his frequent visits to military families. 

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football
Gerald Ford, during practice as a center on the University of Michigan’s Wolverines football team in 1933. (Courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Library via Pentagon)

Gerald Ford

The 38th President of the United States and a World War II Navy veteran Gerald Ford was also a collegiate football phenomenon, a multidisciplinary athlete who would eventually coach football, swimming, and boxing during his time in the military, and a barrier-breaker. As this feature by the Department of Defense points out, in 1975, Ford “signed Public Law 94-106 admitting women to the all-male military colleges — West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy.”

While Ford is evidently more well-known because of his time as a president than because of his sports career, his athletic achievements are worth highlighting. He won collegiate football titles with the University of Michigan Wolverines in 1932 and 1933 and received offers from the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers from the NFL. Yet, he rejected them and instead decided to coach boxing at Yale University. Ford would say that his experiences as a football player helped him get ready for the “rough-and-tumble world of politics.”

Shortly after the start of WWII, Ford “enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an ensign and was assigned as a physical training officer of recruits in North Carolina. After repeated requests to be sent to a combat unit, Ford was sent to the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Monterey, a light aircraft carrier. He would earn 10 battle stars by war’s end, for participation in engagements at Okinawa, Wake, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Gilbert Islands, among others.”

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football
Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson in 1950. (National Archives)

Jackie Robinson

Robinson was not only a historical figure in baseball and the civil rights movement, but also a four-sport star (basketball, football, track, and baseball) in high school and college, and a World War II veteran. Prior to debuting in the MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first-ever black player in the MLB in 1947, “Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. In January 1943, Robinson was commissioned a second lieutenant.

Robinson never wavered in his determined stance against segregation. He experienced backlash around the country as an MLB player because of his race, but he was also a victim of racial abuse during his time as an enlisted soldier, as this feature by the U.S. Department of Defense recounts: 

“On July 6, 1944, Robinson boarded an Army bus. The driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus, but Robinson refused. The driver called the military police, who took Robinson into custody. He was subsequently court-martialed, but he was acquitted. After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for Army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge in November 1944.”

Robinson would go on to become one of the best baseball players ever and the only one to have a number (42) retired league-wide. 

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football
William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey mock punches magician Harry Houdini, who is held back by boxer Benny Leonard in a photo that dates back to the early 1920s.

William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey

Considered one of the best boxers of all time, World Champion and Hall of Famer Jack Dempsey was the epitome of a self-made man. In his autobiography, he mentioned that, despite growing up poor, he made some money with the bets placed on him to win fights in bars and saloons.

Dempsey jumped to stardom in 1919, when he defeated 6’7″, 245-pound World Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard. Dempsey was 6’1″ and 187 pounds. The videos from that iconic fight illustrate the remarkable size difference between them. 

“I had trained for Willard at the Overland Club on Maumee Bay, an inlet of Lake Erie. Nearly every day Kearns and Trainer Jimmy Deforest reported that I was shaping up much better than Willard. But when I saw big Jess across the ring, without an ounce of fat on his huge frame, I wondered if Kearns and Deforest had been bringing me pleasant but false reports to bolster my courage. I won’t say I was scared as I gazed at Willard, but I’ll admit I began to wonder if I packed enough dynamite to blast the man-mountain down,” Dempsey recounts in his book Championship Fighting.

Dempsey would go on to remain the world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926. Throughout his life, he displayed courage and the ability to sacrifice. During World War I, he worked in a Philadelphia shipyard and joined New York State National Guard when World War II started. He would then transition to a commission “as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Reserve, where he was assigned as Director of Physical Education,” and made frequent appearances at “fights, camps, hospital, and War Bond drives… In 1945 he was on the attack transport USS Arthur Middleton for the invasion of Okinawa. In July of 1945, he was assigned to the Commander, 11th Naval District for assignment to Military Morale Duty. He was released from active duty in September 1945. He was given an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard Reserve in 1952.”

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

NHL ventures “Into the Wild Blue Yonder”

On Feb. 15, the NHL will host its annual Stadium Series Games at a really unique and, frankly, awesome location.


The Colorado Avalanche will host the LA Kings at Falcon Stadium on the campus of the United States Air Force Academy.

The Stadium Series has been played previously at several landmark stadiums in its six years of existence. In 2014, the series kicked off with a game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and then two games in Yankee Stadium.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Falcon Stadium.

(goairforcefalcons.com)

Two years ago, the United States Naval Academy hosted the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Capitals won that game 5-2.

This is part of an initiative by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to build a unique partnership with the military. There have also been talks that the New York Rangers are working on having a game at Mitchie Stadium on the campus of the United States Military Academy.

Colorado Avalanche General Manager and hockey legend Joe Sakic said, “We are grateful for the chance to honor our military and our local U.S. service academy with a special event.”

Another benefit of the game is to highlight the Air Force Academy hockey team. In homage to its own history, the team started playing outdoors as a club team. As it built its reputation over the years, the Falcons have made the NCAA Tournament seven times. Three times they have made it to the Elite 8. What is even more impressive is that Air Force can’t recruit like other schools. (no Canadians or Europeans).

The NHL is going all out with pregame fan spaces, which will have interactive activities for everyone. Fans will be able to meet NHL legends, create their own hockey card, take a look at the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and other activities. The highlight of the pregame festivities will definitely be the Stanley Cup. The iconic trophy will be on display, and fans will have the chance to see the Cup up close and personal.

In preparation for the event, the Avalanche sent forward Gabriel Landeskog to be a ‘Cadet for a Day.”

Landeskog took the time to tour the Academy, try out a flight simulator, take in the school’s athletic facilities, and most importantly, spend time with the cadets.

Click here for more information about the game.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Strengthen your arms with this 20-minute shoulder workout

There’s a lot of reason to focus on strengthening your shoulder muscles. For one thing, stronger shoulders mean wider shoulders, and wider shoulders make your waist look smaller. For another, your shoulder muscles are essentially the capstones to your biceps and triceps: They take the whole buff arm thing and add length and definition, raising it to another level entirely.

The good news about shoulder workouts is that these smaller muscles respond quickly to stimulus, meaning you’ll see results in a matter of days or weeks, not months. The muscles you’ll be building are your anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids, occupying positions, as the names imply, at the front, side, and back of the shoulder. Other muscles, like the teres major, rotator cuff, and trapezius, are involved in many shoulder exercises as well.

The series of moves here take about 20-minutes, and should be performed twice a week for best results.


Upright barbell row

Stand with your back straight, holding a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. (Use enough weight to do 10 reps.) Straighten your arms so that the barbell rests against your quads. Bend elbows out to the side and engage shoulders to hike the barbell up toward your chin. Hold for a second, then release. Do 10 reps, 3 sets.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

(Photo by Victor Freitas)

Lateral raise

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms by your sides. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inward. (Use enough weight to do 10 reps.) Keeping elbows soft, raise arms directly out to the sides. Hold for a second, then release. Do 10 reps, 3 sets.

Military press

Using a squat rack, weight a barbell for 10 reps. Standing with feet hip-width apart, place the bar behind your neck and place hands in a wide overhand grip. Exhale, lifting bar off rack and directly overhead. This is your starting position. Inhale, and as you do, bend elbows out to the sides and lower bar in front of you to about collarbone level. Exhale and straighten your arms overhead again. This is one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Dumbbell front raise

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, back straight. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing your thighs. (Use enough weight to do 10 reps.) Raise your right arm directly out in front of you until the dumbbell is parallel with your shoulders, palm facing the floor. Hold a second, then release. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides. Do 3 sets. (Alternately, you can hold a dumbbell in each hand and alternate reps between right and left side, one for one.)

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

(Photo by Alora Griffiths)

Bent-over raise

This move activates your posterior deltoids, one of the harder shoulder muscles to engage. Sit at the end of a bench, a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at the waist so that your chest is against your thighs. Lower arms to the floor, palms facing inward. Exhale and raise arms directly out to the sides, allowing your elbows to bend slightly and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower back to floor. 10 reps, 2 sets.

Shoulder shrugs

This move engages the trap muscles along with your deltoids, making it a great overall shoulder exercise. It’s simple and effective. Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart. Exhale and lift your shoulders as high as you can, as if you are trying to touch your shoulders to your ears. (Keep your arms straight.) Release. 10 reps, 3 sets.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

(Photo by Alora Griffiths)

Arnold press

Named after the OG himself, you’ll learn to love the move Schwarzenegger invented because it works your deltoids from multiple angles, giving you mega bang for your workout buck. Start sitting on a bench, dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inward, arms straight by your sides. Bend elbows and raise hands so that the dumbbells are tucked beneath your chin, palms facing chest. This is your start position. Swing elbows out the sides and straight your arms as you lift the dumbbells overhead, rotating your shoulders so that your finish the move with your palms facing forward, arms straight above you. Release, rotating your shoulders again back to the start. Do 10 reps, 3 sets.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Why former NFL player decided to join the Army

A former NFL Arizona Cardinals cornerback is training for his new team — the Army.

Spc. Jimmy Legree is in his second week of Basic Combat Training; after he graduates he’ll continue training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to become a communications specialist.

Serving in the military was one of his childhood goals, said Legree, who is assigned to D Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery.


“I went a different route by going to college and playing football, but once that window was closed I reverted back to my Plan A, which was joining the military,” said Legree, who graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2013.

There are similarities between football and BCT, and it was an easy transition for him, he said.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Spc. Jimmy Legree, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, is in his second week of Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Okla.

(Fort Sill Tribune staff)

“You have your head coaches and that’s similar to drill sergeants who are correcting any mistakes that you make, said Legree, who played two seasons for the Cardinals.

“In football you wear a helmet and shoulder pads, and here you wear your ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet) and all your equipment.”

Former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Cpl. Pat Tillman is an inspiration for him, said Legree.

“He is definitely inspiring — his passion for the game, and his passion for the country was motivation for me,” Legree said.

Legree’s parents were not in the military, but other extended family members and some of his friends have served in the armed forces, he said. His brethren of former teammates supported his decision to join the military.

Legree enlisted at Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Once they (recruiters) found out I played for the NFL they were all ecstatic, but definitely excited to get me enlisted, get me going.”

Legree is treated no different than the other 215 trainees in the battery, said Capt. Steven Paez, D/1-19th FA commander. The trainees came here to become professional American soldiers and everyone is treated the same.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Spc. Jimmy Legree (with mouthpiece) practices combatives Dec. 11, 2019, with Pvt. Anthony Randolph at Fort Sill, Okla. Legree, who played two seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, is in his second week of Basic Combat Training.

(Fort Sill Tribune staff)

Paez said he learned Legree had played in the NFL when he was serving him Thanksgiving dinner. (It’s an Army tradition where senior leaders serve junior soldiers the holiday meal.)

“I noticed he was a little older (age 28) than everybody else, and I asked him what he was doing before he got here. He said, ‘I was in the NFL.'”

Legree is not the oldest trainee in the battery, Paez said. The oldest is 34 years old; the youngest is 17.

Senior Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Jason Aqui, D/1-19th FA, described Legree as a mature, humble, positive, and quiet trainee.

“I’ve definitely noticed that he brings the platoon together to accomplish its tasks,” Aqui said. He was also one of the more physically fit trainees coming into BCT.

Drill sergeants will take advantage of Legree’s maturity and put him into leadership positions as the 10-week BCT progresses, Aqui said.

The battery will graduate Feb. 21, 2019, and Legree said he is already thinking of a long military career.

MIGHTY SPORTS

How this combat vet became a 33-year-old walk-on

U.S. Army veteran Joshua Griffin trained with Rangers and Green Berets and saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during his 13 years of military service. Then he decided to become an officer, join ROTC, and play college football.

The Staff Sergeant is now the oldest player in the country on a major college football team.

The 33-year-old walk-on is in his second season at Colorado State University and he credits his military service with much of his success.


Army Veteran Becomes Oldest College Football Player | NBC Nightly News

www.youtube.com

Tom Ehlers, CSU’s director of football ops, was impressed with Griffin from the start.

First of all, Griffin cold-called Ehlers in person. At 5’10” and 208 lbs, Griffin certainly looked the part.

More than that, Ehlers quickly realized that “Griffin’s military background could be useful on a young football team in need of leadership.” The problem was that Griffin didn’t have any footage of himself playing — or even the SAT or ACT scores needed to qualify for college attendance.

Still, he was persistent — another skill courtesy of the United States Army. He was finally invited to the walk-on tryouts.

The term walk-on is used to describe an athlete who earns a place on the team without being recruited or, in the case of college football, awarded an athletic scholarship.

Griffin drilled alone in the weeks before tryouts after watching the team practice.

“I would study what the coaches had them doing during individuals and then after practice I would go to these fields right here and I would do exactly what they would do,” he told ESPN.

He was one of three who made the team.

Griffin was attached to the 10th Special Forces and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment while on active duty. His wartime experiences included 2½ years of service overseas — and he still carries unseen scars with him, including hypervigilance and trouble sleeping.

But he carries the brotherhood with him, too. The players, most of whom are a decade younger than Griffin, look up to him — a fact noticed by the coaching staff, who made him one of ten accountability leaders for the team.

“He’s a great example of what soldiers are like out there,” said Lt. Col. Troy Thomas, the professor of military science who runs CSU’s Army ROTC program.”…When you support people through their goals, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. We’ve been able to support Josh while he gets an education and plays athletics. I suspect great things for him in the future.”

MIGHTY MONEY

There is no one in NFL history more devoted to veterans than Jared Allen

During his 12-year NFL career, Jared Allen was a heavyweight defensive player, making his presence known on multiple teams, especially the Minnesota Vikings. It was as a Viking that Allen went on a trip that touched his heart and soul, touring with USO to visit servicemen and women deployed overseas. He even told the assembled troops as much.

That’s what led to Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors (JAH4WW).


“It has been one of the best experiences of my life – something that I’ll never forget,” Allen said of his time visiting troops. “We, as players, probably get more out of it than you do as soldiers and Marines.” Even though his grandfather and younger brother were Marines, the experience changed Allen, inspiring him to create his own charity to support America’s wounded.

Even after he was traded to Chicago and later Carolina, Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors carried on no matter where Allen was playing. Even though he’s listed as one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time, the uniform he wore on the field wasn’t what defined him. If you ask the man himself, he’ll tell you what he does off the field is what matters most.

“Football is what I do, it’s not who I am. The things that we do today — to impact these lives, to change people’s lives — can last forever,” he told SB Nation. “We have a great responsibility to the community that supports us, and to our veterans who allow us to do what we do.”
The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen presents free Super Bowl LII tickets to eleven-year-old Tallon Kiminski, son of Minnesota Air National Guard member, Maj. Jodi Grayson.

(U.S. Air National Guard photos by Capt. Nathan T. Wallin)

When it comes to helping wounded veterans, Jared Allen is a godsend. On its website, the JAH4WW says, “Jared was moved by the commitment, dedication, and sacrifices that our soldiers make every day to protect our freedom. He wanted to say thank you to every soldier in the only way that Jared knows how. By embracing the conflict and making a positive life-changing difference in the lives of those who need it most, Jared and his JAH4WW will help make life for wounded vets just a little bit easier.”

Talk is big, but in practice, Jared Allen is much, much bigger than just words. Since its founding in 2009, his organization has helped raise funds to build or revamp homes for injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, raised tens of thousands of dollars from corporations like Wal-Mart and Proctor Gamble to provide everyday household goods for veteran families in need, and on Veterans Day, you can always find the now-retired Allen doing something to help veterans in need.

The NFL Draft pick who didn’t want to play football

NFL player Larry Fitzgerald signs an autograph for troops from the Washington Army National Guard at Camp Ramadi, Iraq, along with Will Witherspoon from the St. Louis Rams, Jared Allen from the Minnesota Vikings, and Danny Clark from the New York Giants in 2009.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)

“I knew I had to do something to serve our country,” Allen once said of the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors. “I feel the best way to do that is serve those who serve us.”

If you’re a veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan who is in need of housing or alterations to suit your disability, apply to Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors on the organization’s website. Jared Allen is one guy you definitely want in your corner.

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