Eric Kettani didn't have to pay for college.
A standout fullback and linebacker at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor, Ohio, Kettani was recruited by many schools, including big programs like West Virginia and Indiana. But in the end he chose the school that offered him a chance to play, learn and serve his country—even though his education wouldn't exactly be "free."
Kettani's choice? The U.S. Naval Academy.
Each year high school student-athletes across the nation realize their dream of playing college sports by attending a military service academy.
The academies provide students with top-notch educations at no financial cost. Athletic scholarships are not awarded; instead, student-athletes receive paid tuition in exchange for active military service upon graduation. The admissions process is tough, academic standards are high, and students need a nomination from a member of Congress to be accepted.
For Kettani, a major selling point was Navy's triple-option offense.
"As a fullback, I'd get 20 or 30 carries a game," Kettani says. "If I'd played for one of the Big Ten schools, I'd have been a lead blocker and maybe get one or two catches out of the backfield."
At Navy, Kettani endured long days and followed a strict schedule.
"As a freshman, you're not allowed to nap," Kettani says.
Sports took a back seat to the academic and military curriculum.
"We'd have team meetings for an hour, then practice for two hours," Kettani says. "And that's all the football we had."
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 2009, Kettani signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent. He spent two seasons on the reserve list while serving in the Navy.
In 2012 Kettani was released from active duty to pursue his NFL career, in exchange for seven years in the Naval Reserves. He was the first Naval Academy graduate to receive this special exemption since David Robinson was granted early release in 1987 to play in the NBA.
Kettani's advice? "Find out what the best option is for your future—not just in college—but in setting yourself up for life."
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