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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Strongly expect LB Jon Rhattigan to clear waivers and be on the #Seahawks practice squad. They really like him, he impressed in the preseason finale, and it's a position of need for them. #GoArmy @ArmyWP_Football https://t.co/902U1jPiNf— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) September 1, 2021
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.