WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - Redskins fullback and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Eric Kettani was featured on NFL Network Wednesday evening, and what better time to talk about a man who set his own dreams aside, multiple times, to serve his country, than on Independence Day.
“My senior year came around, I was performing pretty well on the football field and got agents calling me, and scouts coming and watching practices, and it hit me then, I could play in the NFL,” Lt. Kettani told NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer, of when he realized his dream was attainable.
Lt. Kettani, then about to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, was signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2009, who then immediately placed him on a reserved military list while he served two years of active duty.
Fast forward 24 months, as his military service was coming to a close and just as he was to return to the Patriots and his dream of being in the NFL, he was called upon by the U.S. Navy to return to active duty.
“I get an email that said ‘Report back immediately’” Lt. Kettani told Kramer.
“What was the reason given?” Kramer asked.
“It was a time of war. I needed to get back,” Lt. Kettani answered.
“Did you think your football career was over?” Kramer asked.
“Yes,” Lt. Kettani answered. “It’s tough, you know. You work so hard for something and it’s taken away, but that’s what I signed up for, so I can’t complain.”
One year later, Lt. Kettani was able to revisit his NFL aspirations yet again, after being granted his release from the military on a unique condition offered by the Department of Defense.
The following policy took effect in 2008:
“Exceptional personnel with unique talents and abilities may be released from active duty when there is a strong expectation they will provide the Department with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national recruiting or public affairs efforts. Personnel will be expected to use their talents in a manner that generates interest for service in the United States Armed Forces.”
Lt. Kettani reached an agreement with the U.S. Navy that allowed him to pursue a career in professional football, under the condition that he serve in the Navy Reserve for the next 7 years, conducting speaking engagements aimed at recruitment.
But it wasn’t all smiles at this point, because as he told the NFL Network, he was subject to a slew of hate mail scolding him for abandoning his post, so to speak.
“I received some hate mail saying you know, ‘Go back to the military. Do your job and do what you signed up for.’ And they have every right to say that,” Lt. Kettani said.
And just like that, after finally navigating the treacherous waters of earning his release from the military, he was released by the Patriots.
Luckily, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins came calling. He was signed to Washington’s practice squad, where he spent all of the 2012 season honing his craft.
And one month ago, as he continued to prepare to make the 52-man roster ahead of the 2013 season, Eric Kettani became Lieutenant Kettani, inviting Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner, along with a handful of other teammates, to his honorary pinning ceremony, to be held at Redskins Park.
“To have a guy like that serve our country, you feel like you’re in great hands,” Shanahan said.
“He’s very intelligent. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s an overachiever,” he continued. “Those are usually the guys that will do a great job when they get their opportunity.”
Realizing his dream wasn’t easy, although, the path to the NFL never is, but Lieutenant Eric Kettani of the United States Navy finally has a clear shot at making the active roster, while representing both Redskins faithful and the U.S. Military.
This is the type of person we should be honoring on our day of Independence, and the type of fearless dedication one would expect from an officer in our military.