Colts linebacker serving 2 duties on Veterans Day
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Linebacker Josh McNary is living in the best of two worlds.
He spends most of the year chasing a Super Bowl ring with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. He spends the rest of his time working with America's team, the National Guard, and considers that an honor.
''It was near and dear to a lot of guys' hearts because football is such a big deal to so many people in the military,'' he said, referring to the initial reaction of his Army buddies after he applied for an early release from his service commitment in May 2013. ''I get a lot of text messages and Facebook messages from guys that say they saw me or whatever, and it's really cool. It's great.''
McNary is one of four current players who have traded in their military togs for NFL uniforms. Denver offensive lineman Ben Garland graduated from the Air Force Academy, Jacksonville fullback Eric Kettani graduated from the Naval Academy and Pittsburgh defensive end Alejandro Villanueva completed three tours of duty in Afghanistan after graduating from West Point, the same alma mater as McNary.
All four remain active in the National Guard or reserves, and McNary plans to spend this Veterans Day visiting current and former service members.
''There are parts that I miss (from the Army),'' he said. ''But coming out on a day like where you can play football outside in beautiful weather, that's like recess. It's pretty much the life of my dreams.''
It's also a family tradition.
McNary's father spent 11 years as a Marine Corps officer. Both of his grandfathers served in combat, one in World War II, the other in Korea. An uncle, Ron McNary, won a bronze star while serving in Iraq, and war stories, sometimes graphic, became a part of growing up.
''I can't tell you what it (Veterans Day) means because it's really a different perspective,'' McNary said. ''The fact that they did serve gave me more appreciation for what they did and I learned some of the details, some of the gory details, about what they went through.''
That McNary is even playing football is somewhat remarkable.
Twice the undersized defender was prepared to walk away from the sport he loved so he could fight for the country he loved. Twice he made it back by defying long odds.
The journey began in high school when Division I colleges universally overlooked the 6-foot linebacker. That prompted the Texas native to choose Army and focus on a military career. Eventually, McNary decided to walk on and finished his career as the school's all-time leader in sacks (28.0) and tackles for loss (49).
With a five-year post-graduate commitment to the Army, McNary went undrafted in 2011.
Two years later, McNary, then stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, decided to give the game one more shot. The first lieutenant showed up at a regional scouting combine and caught the attention of Colts general manager Ryan Grigson. With the Colts in need of pass rushers, Grigson took a low-risk gamble.
To get the release, McNary agreed to serve six more years in the National Guard and the only people more excited than McNary were his military comrades.
''Even before I got selected to the team, my platoon sergeant made the announcement to the battalion. He blew my cover,'' McNary said. ''But they rallied behind me and whenever we had a flag football game or something, I'd always be the No. 1 guy they'd take.''
Indianapolis thought McNary's would be available in June. Red tape delayed his arrival until after training camp actually began in late July.
McNary got to work, overcame an injury to make the practice squad and eventually earned a spot on the 53-man active roster in late November. He finished his rookie season with 16 tackles, then went right back to work. This year, he has 17 tackles in nine games as the Colts (6-3) have jumped to the top of the AFC South. They'll face the AFC East-leading Patriots (7-2) on Sunday night.
The guard has helped by allowing McNary to split his offseason work between his home in Indy and his family's home in Houston.
Teammates concede it's a mission they respect.
''My (offseason) regimen is nothing near what his is,'' Indy defensive end Cory Redding said. ''I'm not doing pushups and jumping over walls. I think his regimen is a lot more intense than mine.''
And they revere the sacrifices McNary has made for his country.
''I remember guys like Ted Williams, who might have had all the baseball records if he stuck around, but he was a fighter pilot in World War II, came back and didn't miss a beat,'' Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said. ''Guys like Pat Tillman, who gave his life for his country. Guys like this are really special, and we take it for granted sometimes.''