|Attention! Caleb Campbell reporting for NFL duty, Sir!|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 29 April 2008 12:21|
``Not much sleep. A lot of work,'' cadet Capt. Campbell said Tuesday in a conference call from West Point, where sleep is a treasured commodity. ``I think it's going to be really competitive. I think it's going to be exciting, but a little nervous.''
Campbell, a four-year starter at strong safety for the Black Knights, was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the NFL draft on Sunday. He's among the first Army athletes to benefit from the Alternative Service Option program, which was implemented in 2005. It allows athletes a chance to play professionally and complete their service by serving as recruiters and in the reserves.
Which means Campbell, as well as classmate Mike Viti, who signed a free-agent deal with the Buffalo Bills, won't be going to Iraq or Afghanistan like many of their senior classmates.
``A lot of guys are getting deployed to Kuwait and Iraq,'' said Viti, who figured he'd become a field artillery officer when he graduated. ``That's where I'd be if I didn't have football. We're just fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be a big influence, and that opportunity becomes a driving force.''
The Air Force Academy and Naval Academy do not offer such a program. Both require two years of active service upon graduation before presenting the option of swapping the final three years of active time for six years in the reserves.
Neither Campbell nor Viti, a fullback, knew about the program when they enrolled at West Point - former Army coach Bobby Ross told them about it when they were upperclassmen - and they've endured some backlash from fellow cadets since Sunday.
``There were a lot of questions. Why is this kid going to be able to pursue this opportunity?'' said Campbell, an air defense artilleryman. ``I had a lot of guys come up to me. I think initially they were confused. They didn't understand the aspect of this whole situation. But it was never anything vulgar, just a lot of questions, a lot of curiosity from my fellow cadets.
``Now that they understand the policy, they understand how this is going to benefit the Army,'' Campbell said. ``Whenever I'm settled in, I will report to the local recruiting station in the area and I will take it very seriously. It's my job in the United States Army. This is how I'm serving my country.''
Both players were meeting privately with professors before they departed and will graduate with their class in May. They will join Army baseball standouts Nick Hill and Milan Dinga, as well as former hockey goalie Brad Roberts, as recent West Point graduates who were able to take advantage of the new program.
``My service to my nation won't be done when I'm done with the Buffalo Bills,'' said Viti, a regimental commander within the Corps of Cadets. ``If I spend one day in the NFL or 10 years, I plan on serving my nation after my career is over. I think I can have a positive impact, knowing that I represent more than the game of football.''
Campbell was the first Army player selected in the NFL draft since quarterback Ronnie McAda was chosen by the Green Bay Packers with the final pick in 1997.
McAda, a supporter of the new program, hung around the Packers' training camp until the last cuts in 1997, then had to leave to serve two years in the Army. After playing in NFL Europe, McAda returned to the Packers and was cut during training camp in 1999. He hooked on with Denver, battled shoulder injuries, was cut during training camp in 2001, and now lives back home in Mesquite, Texas.
Before McAda, Army hadn't had a player drafted since wideout Gary Steele, who graduated in 1968.
``I kind of find it motivating to make sure I make the team,'' Campbell said. ``It's great to hear the good comments, it makes you feel good. The bad comments? That's just part of the job. If we didn't have a critic out there, the world would be a boring place. It's really not going to distract me. It's my job to play football, and that's what I plan to do.
``It's been a bumpy ride. I just hope it paves the way for other athletes that want to pursue this opportunity.''