WASHINGTON (Army News Service, December 11, 2013) – Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno was honored with the National Football Foundation Distinguished American Award, Dec. 10.
Among other honorees was Texas Longhorns long snapper Nate Boyer, a staff sergeant in the Texas National Guard, who received the National Football Foundation, or NFF, Legacy Award.
Both men spoke during a morning NFF Annual Awards press conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, which aired live on ESPN3.
“If it wasn’t for college football, I wouldn’t be here today,” Odierno said, describing how in 1971 the head coach of the U.S. Military Academy, Tom Cahill, recruited him.
Unfortunately, Odierno said, he had a series of knee injuries that prevented him from playing. Nevertheless, he went on and graduated from the academy.
“I’ve always been indebted to college football,” he said, explaining that it led him to making the Army a career.
Today, thousands of players are getting a college education because of football, he noted, adding, “football helps develop future leaders, not just for the military but for our society.”
There are a number of important parallels between football and the military, Odierno said.
To be a Soldier, “you’ve got to be mentally and physically tough and football promotes that resilience,” he said.
There will be “peaks and valleys” in the lives of Soldiers and football players, he said, continuing with the comparison. Those who are resilient are going to be better able to deal with those valleys and succeed.
In the military as in football, “it’s not about the individual, it’s about being part of a group of young men and women who are able to accomplish something that’s much greater than themselves,” Odierno said.
While not every football player will get to experience the success that Florida State or Auburn are having this season, he said, “others will compete and be successful at achieving something that they never thought they’d achieve, by beating a certain team.”
In a final analogy, he said that as a football player, “you’ve got to constantly depend on those on your right and left and have inherent trust in them” as Soldiers do in the military. And, “you’ve got to trust your coaches, just as Soldiers have faith in their leaders.”
“Football has been an inspirational beam of hope for me,” said Boyer, 32, who earned the Bronze Star Medal while serving in Iraq in Special Forces.
Boyer said he grew up playing a lot of sports, but ironically, football wasn’t one of them.
“My high school (in Tennessee) didn’t have a football team,” he said.
Instead, he played baseball and basketball.
But “football is something I always wanted to do,” he continued. “I didn’t have many regrets in life but (not playing football) was one of them,” he said.
Instead of going to college immediately, Boyer joined the Army.
While stationed in Iraq, Boyer said he’d get up at 5 a.m. to watch football because of the nine-hour time difference. He said he and other Soldiers looked forward to watching it every week and it was something that helped keep them going.
Then one day, Boyer said the “brilliant idea” of playing college football came to him and he began to prepare, running through the sand at his compound.
When he returned stateside, Boyer joined the Guard and got a football scholarship at the University of Texas in 2010. This year as a junior at UT, he was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy.
He credited his success in football and in life with leadership mentoring he received from his coaches, his parents — both of whom were at the press conference — and other Soldiers “who inspired me, had my back and helped me trust in myself.”
Asked if his future plans include playing for the National Football League, Boyer said he wouldn’t rule that out, but another possibly would be serving others by working in a nonprofit organization. He’ll leave it up to God to direct his future.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he’s proud of the great relationship the NFL has with the Army. The Army has been collaborating with the NFL to help prevent concussions and promote treatment for traumatic brain injury. Goodell said he’s especially proud of those in the military “who serve our country, people like General O and Nate.”
Goodell is an NFF Gold Medal recipient. Other awardees include Dennie Poppe, who receive the NFF Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award; Joe Castiglione, who received the John L. Toner Award; and Gene Deckerhoff, who received the NFF Chris Schenkel Award.
The NFF aims to “inspire young people to excellence and holding up the greatest players and coaches in the history of the game as role models and enshrining them and their achievements in the College Football Hall of Fame,” according to its mission statement.