This story originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of ESPNHS magazine.
When you commit to play a sport at one of the three major United States service academies, you are signing up for a lot more than four years of practices and games. Each school requires a five-year active duty commitment upon graduation. In a time of war, that pledge can be daunting, yet thousands accept it each year. We talked to three high school seniors who have committed to play a Division I sport at an academy to find out what went into their decisions.
Location: Annapolis, Md.
Famous Athletic Alums: Roger Staubach & David Robinson
Future Midshipman: Zach Hester
High School: Boyle County (Danville, Ky.)
Hester on choosing Navy over BCS contender Arkansas:
I was really into Arkansas. They showed me more interest than any other school. And that’s old-school football right there — that’s a program you dream of playing at. You’re on national TV every week. And they had the best facilities I’ve ever seen. But when I learned about Navy, it really opened my eyes. Football isn’t going to last forever, so I chose the path where I’ll get to see the world and do big things.
Hester on making the official commitment:
Once I got on campus and saw the grandeur and the tradition, there really wasn’t much hesitation. They prepare you for everything, so I don’t see much to be worried about. This is the person I want to be and the path I want to take.
Location: West Point, N.Y.
Famous Athletic Alum: Mike Krzyzewski
Future Black Knight: Zach Johnson
High School: King’s Fork (Suffolk, Va.)
Johnson on Army’s unique recruiting style:
Army sold the whole package of what going to West Point meant. The other schools really focused on the basketball. At Army, the basketball wasn’t the main thing. The basketball’s important. I love the game. But to be able to say I’m serving my country while also getting a world-class education and meeting so many new people was too good to pass up.
Johnson on the camaraderie at Army:
When I met the current players, I could feel their bond. I could tell they had each other’s backs. And that wasn’t just with basketball. The entire campus is like a family. Everyone on campus eats breakfast and lunch together every day at the exact same time, so that builds that connection. One day, we’ll all be fighting together, and it means much more when you all feel like family.
Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Famous Athletic Alums: Gregg Popovich
Future Falcon: Blake Elder
High School: Keller Central (Keller, Texas)
Elder on carrying on a family tradition:
My grandfather was a colonel in the Air Force, but it’s never something he pushed on me. Once I began considering the Air Force Academy, I realized how good it felt to be able to follow in his footsteps. I see where he is now and what he’s accomplished in his life, and that’s what I’d like for myself as well.
Elder on the economic factors of his decision:
It’s such a no-brainer financially. I’d be stupid to pass it up. They pay for your education and you’re guaranteed to have a job after graduation. I’m looking forward to serving my country. I take pride in that. And later in life I’d love to be an airline pilot, so there’s no better experience than being in the Air Force.