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6 Service Academy graduates who are playing in the NFL this year

Service Academy graduates have had a long history of making both their military and NFL careers work.

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp
West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva, #78, of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during training camp at M&T Bank Stadium.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

As college football season begins, it's only right we highlight some of the Service Academy players that have gone on from their respective schools to play in the big leagues. It’s not an easy feat.

For nearly every year that these players have broached the NFL, there have been changing rules that make it unclear what lies ahead for a more permanent policy on these players getting the chance to attempt careers in pro sports. But while rules may change, these players made a commitment to stay ready for both opportunities — playing ball while also serving their country.

Alejandro Villanueva

Army (2011) — Baltimore Ravens

Alejandro Villanueva has had a pretty steady football career since his time at West Point ended. The two-time Pro Bowler spent the past six seasons with the Pittsburg Steelers. But in a recent deal, he inked a $14 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens, where he’s expected to start at right tackle. He’ll have to face his old teammates at least twice a year in AFC North play.

Baltimore Ravens v Washington Football Team
Alejandro Villanueva of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during the first half of the preseason game against the Washington Football Team on August 28, 2021.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Garrett Griffin

Air Force (2016) — New Orleans Saints

This Saints tight end has had a quiet career thus far in New Orleans. Griffin, who graduated in 2016, has been on and off of the practice squad with the Saints, but has played in seven regular season and two postseason contests since 2017. Let’s not forget his major TD catch from Drew Brees in 2019. Griffin made the 53-man active roster this season.

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Saints at Jets
New Orleans Saints tight end, Garrett Griffin, on the sideline during the Preseason National Football League game against the New York Jets on August 24, 2019.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Brett Toth

Army (2018) — Philadelphia Eagles

Following a 2018 policy change that allowed Service Academy grads the chance to defer their active duty commitment to play sports professionally, Brett Toth was first taken on by the Arizona Cardinals. After being cut following the final roster release, Toth later signed with the Philadelphia Eagles during their 2019 training camp as an offensive tackle. Toth played in six games last season, starting in one.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Jets
Brett Toth of the Philadelphia Eagles on the sideline during a preseason game against the New York Jets on August 27, 2021.
Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Elijah Riley

Army (2020) — Philadelphia Eagles

Do the Eagles have a liking for West Point alums? Maybe! Elijah Riley, a defensive back during his time at Army, declared for the NFL draft in 2020 and went undrafted, but later signed a free-agent deal in Philly as a safety. Riley appeared in five games as a rookie.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Jets
Elijah Riley of the Philadelphia Eagles at a preseason game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on August 27, 2021.
Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Joe Cardona

Navy (2015) — New England Patriots

Joe Cardona’s NFL career began at the fifth round of the 2015 draft. Since then, he’s earned two Super Bowl rings and had an admirable career as a long snapper for the New England Patriots. Recent reports detailed that the former Navy player experienced an “undisclosed injury” during preseason practice, so it’s unclear how many games he’ll get to appear in 2021, but the Patriots did retain him on their active roster.

New England Patriots Training Camp
Joe Cardona of the New England Patriots arrives at the field for Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on July 30, 2021.
Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Malcolm Perry

Navy (2020) — New England Patriots

Selected in the 7th round by the Miami Dolphins in the spring of 2020, Malcolm Perry is the latest Navy fan favorite to head to the NFL. The former quarterback set major records during his career in Annapolis. Miami used him last season and this preseason as a running back and receiver, but the Dolphins cut him this week. Less than a day later, Perry was scooped up Bill Belichick and the Pats, who will likely find creative ways to utilize him. The Pats have had much success with other quarterback-turned-skill position players in the past.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins
Malcolm Perry of the Miami Dolphins in action against the Atlanta Falcons during a preseason game at Hard Rock Stadium on August 21, 2021.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images


Jon Rhattigan

Army (2021) — Seattle Seahawks

The former Army linebacker went undrafted in May but was later picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. A hamstring injury left Rhattigan almost entirely out of the preseason. He played just one game against the Los Angeles Chargers but registered a total of five tackles and a tackle for a loss. A few reports had him as a quiet favorite to make the final roster, but Rhattigan was cut on Tuesday. Still, its expected that he’ll spend a lot of time in Seattle this season.

Los Angeles Chargers v Seattle Seahawks
Jon Rhattigan of the Seattle Seahawks looks on in the second quarter during the NFL preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Lumen Field on August 28, 2021.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Now, while these service academy grads are currently tied to teams, there are a number of other alums who have had recent stints in the regular NFL season, on practice squads, are currently free agents, or were recently waived. That group includes: Ben Garland, Austin Cutting, Keenan Reynolds, Noah Laufenberg, George Silvanic, Cole Christiansen and Connor Slomka. Additionally, New York Jets placed former Air Force defensive back Zane Lewis on the IR recently after he tore his patella tendon and suffered a sprained MCL. The Jets also have former Air Force offensive lineman Parker Ferguson on IR.