Top Achievements

Reporting by Erin Summers

Edited for web by Joe Harman

 

The five Heisman Trophy winners aren’t the only notable players to come out of the service academies. Many notable players went on to distinguished careers in the Armed Forces, including Generals, Admirals and even one Commander In Chief. 

 

When Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived at West Point he only weighed 152 pounds, but with intensive training -- and eating -- and sheer determination he made the varsity football team in his second year. After graduation Eisenhower quickly impressed his commanders, including Generals Douglass MacArthur and George C. Marshall. His friendliness, optimism and overall “like-ability” served him well throughout his career.

Eisenhower rose through the ranks quickly and he was already a Brigadier General when the US entered World War II. But he was quickly promoted and eventually became a 5-star General and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the European Theater. In that role Eisenhower planned and commanded the successful D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Allies’ subsequent triumph over Nazi Germany in Europe.

After the war Eisenhower became one of the most well-loved Americans. Despite initially swearing off politics, in 1952 he was talked into running for President of the United States. He handily won two terms as President and, to this day, remains fondly remembered, because, as we all say, “I Like Ike.”

 

On the Navy team that lost to Army in the “Game of The Century II” in 1945 was  offensive guard Stansfield Turner. Turner graduated in 1946, 25th in his class, a standout among standouts. That class included 31 other future Admirals, two future Marine Corps Generals, one future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and one future President, Jimmy Carter. Turner was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and rose to the rank of full Admiral, serving in the Navy for 32 years. He is most remembered for his time as CIA Director under Carter, where he is credited with reforming and modernizing that agency.

 

Not only is Lt. General Darryl A. Williams a former Army defensive lineman, in 2018 he was named Superintendent at West Point. Since graduating from West Point in 1983 Lt. General Williams has served as an Army Aide to the President of the United States with President Bill Clinton, then as an Artillery Battery Commander in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. President Barak Obama tapped LTG Williams to lead the war on the Ebola virus as Commander of US Army Africa during Operation United Assistance, and before assuming command at West Point, Lt. General Williams served as Commander of NATO Allied Land Command.

He is the first African-American to command West Point in the Academy’s 216-year history.,

 

Former Army offensive lineman and wide receiver Alejandro Villanueva has made a career of proving the doubters wrong.

He wasn’t a highly touted high school prospect, but he made the Army football team anyway. Then, after graduating from West Point in 2010, Villanueva became Army Ranger, served three tours in Afghanistan and earned two Bronze Stars.

Undrafted, Villanueva was desperate to get back into football upon his discharge from the Army, but it was tough finding a NFL team to take a look at him. Finally he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, and spent the season with the Pittsburgh Steelers’s practice squad. The very next season he made the Pittsburgh starting offensive line and hasn’t missed a game since. Villanueva has played in all 16 games in each of the Steelers’ past six seasons, a streak of 96 straight games, tied for 4th on the active list for offensive linemen.

Not only that, but Villanueva was named to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2018 and 2019.  He is the first West Point grad to be named to the NFL’s Pro Bowl since Glenn “Mr. Outside” Davis in 1951, and the first service academy alum to play in the Pro Bowl since Roger Staubach in 1979.

Not bad for a guy who never set out to be a football player.

 

Bob McElwee was a standout linebacker for Navy in the mid-1950’s, and was on the Navy team that won the Sugar Bowl in 1955, but he will always be remembered for gaining fame as a Super Bowl referee.   

While serving as an officer and pilot in the US Air Force, McElwee began officiating local sports near Hamilton Air Force Base in California. After returning home to the Philadelphia area in the early 1960’s he continued officiating local sports and was soon on the field for Ivy League football games.

Hired by the NFL in 1976, it wasn’t long before he was promoted to Referee. He went on to referee to become one of the most recognizable referees in the sport. He is one of just 6 to Referee three or more Super Bowls and remains the only person to referee a Super Bowl in three different decades. After 27 seasons, McElwee retired from the NFL in 2003.

 

Air Force’s most notable alum is star defensive lineman Chad Hennings. In 1987 Hennings notched an impressive 24 sacks of opposing quarterbacks, won the Outland Trophy that year, awarded to the best interior defensive lineman in college football, and was named an All-American. 

Although drafted by the Cowboys in 1988, Hennings kept his service commitment and went on to serve as an Air Force pilot for four years, completing 45 combat missions in A-10 aircraft over Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey.

After 4 years as an Air Force officer, Hennings returned to football and joined the powerhouse Dallas Cowboys at the age of 26. He picked up right where he left off and began dominating the line of scrimmage in the NFL. He won three -- count-’em, three -- Super Bowls with the Cowboys and was teammates with Pro Football Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith and Michael Irvin.

 

i: Reeves, Thomas C., “Dwight D. Eisenhower: President of the United States,” (n.d.) Encyclopedia Brittanica, July 28, 1999, updated October 10th, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dwight-D-Eisenhower/ additional-info#history, accessed March 12th, 2021

ii: Shapiro, T. Rees, “Adm. Stansfield Turner, who led major CIA overhaul as director of central intelligence, dies at 94”, Jan. 18, 2018, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/adm-stansfield- turner-who-led-major-cia-overhaul-as-director-of-central-intelligence-dies-94/2018/01/18/eac46390-fc99-11e7-ad8c-ecbb62019393_story.html, accessed March 12, 2021

iii: “Academy Leadership,” (n.d.) Army West Point Official Athletics Website, https://goarmywestpoint.com/sports/2015/3/6/ GEN_2014010165.aspx, accessed March 13th, 2021

iv:  “About”, (n.d.) General Darryl A. Williams, LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/general-darryl-a-williams- 682994108/, accessed March 13th, 2021

v:  “Alejandrop Villanueva”, (n.d.) Roster, Pittsburgh Steelers, https://www.steelers.com/team/players-roster/ alejandro-villanueva/career, accessed March 13, 2021

vi:  “Villanueva ‘10 Selected to Back-to-Back Pro Bowls” Dec. 19, 2018, Army West Point Official Athletics Website, https://goarmywestpoint.com/news/2018/12/19/football-villanueva-10-selected-to-back-to-back-pro- bowls.aspx, accessed March 13, 2021

 vii: “Bob McElwee”, edited Jan. 9, 2021, in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_McElweem, accessed March 13, 2021

 viii: “About Chad” (n.d), Chad Hennings: Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, https://chadhennings.com/about/, accessed March 13, 2021