The U.S. Army has long believed that athletes, particularly those most coachable, make the best soldiers and leaders of men.
They are physically fit and have been bathed in the concepts of duty, honor and accountability to team and institution.
It’s not surprising then that the Army was very happy to accept Chris Ervin, a senior at Fort Worth Southwest, even though his path to military service is anything but customary.
But a rare breed Ervin is said to be.
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While most, if not all, were readying for the 2016 season in summertime weightlifting and conditioning programs or seven-on-seven tournaments, the Raiders linebacker spent his summer in Fort Jackson, S.C., for 10 weeks of basic combat training.
“I’ve always wanted to serve in the military, I just didn’t know which branch or how I was going to do it or when,” Ervin said. “I was indecisive whether to go to college or active duty. I had a lot of great role models and mentors who talked me into becoming an officer in the military.
“I totally forgot football existed while I was in basic training. When I came back, I talked to Coach [Robert] Goebel, [John] Engel [the school’s principal] and what this year would look like playing football. The only thing I was really behind on was knowing the plays and the defense. Being in shape … .”
Though not his intention, Ervin probably did more than just about anybody else across Dallas and Fort Worth in getting physically and mentally ready to play football in 2016.
He is 43 pounds lighter — down to 190 pounds — and in the best shape of his life, transforming a 10-minute mile into 6 minutes. And he has a completely new understanding of “team.”
Ervin is taking an unconventional route to military service, going to basic training in the summer and finishing up his secondary schooling before then moving on to the Army and college.
College is definitely an immediate destination, though where is still up in the air.
A member of the JROTC at Southwest, Ervin is competing for an ROTC scholarship to a university where he will train to be an Army officer. Under that scenario, the enlistment contract he has already signed will terminate. If that doesn’t come through, he’ll continue his journey to the Army reserves and go to Fort Lee, Va., for 10 weeks of initial individual training and then off to college. His occupational specialty would be as a petroleum specialist.
As a football player, he is in full conformity with of one of the great traditions of the U.S. Army.
Some of the great leaders in military history credit their years in football as important formative experiences in learning to lead.
Dwight Eisenhower was said to have become so despondent over having to quit football at West Point that he almost dropped out of the academy. Undersized and without exclusive athletic ability, Ike said it “would be difficult to overemphasize the importance I attached to the participation of sports.”
“I believe that football, perhaps more than any other sport, tends to instill in men the feeling that victory comes through hard — almost slavish — work, team play, self-confidence, and an enthusiasm that amounts to dedication.”
The Army is a believer that an athletic background is commensurate to being a good soldier.
“Any candidate that has an athletic background is going to find West Point more conducive to who they are,” an admissions director once told ESPN.
On the football side, Ervin is a backup on a Southwest team that is 2-1 with a bye this week before a big game with Fort Worth Arlington Heights on Sept. 22. He’s a little behind, of course, because of time he has missed, Goebel said. Also, Ervin didn’t play as a sophomore or a junior.
But, “as far as character and quality, he’s exactly what you need in your program. He understands the concepts of team: no man left behind,” Goebel said.
“It relates to the Army in a way,” Ervin said of football. “In basic, we learned to work as a team. You get put in a platoon with 60 other people, male and female. A lot of the training we go through involves overcoming things as a team. Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the team.
“That’s what we do at Southwest. We do everything as a team, we look out for each other as a team.”
Though football likely alone won’t lead to the scholarship he seeks or a distinguished career, Ervin has other credentials as a can-do guy. In addition to his football commitment, he’s also on the tennis team, a student in advanced placement classes and a JROTC leader.
He is what they call an exemplar, an embodiment of the student-athlete.
“He’s a great kid,” Goebel said. “I have a 20-year-old daughter, and you know as a father you’re pretty protective of your own kid … he’s one of the few people I’d allow to date my daughter. He’s that kind of character kid.”
Player of the Week
The dfwVarsity.com Week 3 football offensive Player of the Week is Richland junior running back Rylee Johnson, while Everman cornerback A.J. Wilder is the defensive Player of the Week.
A total of 32,544 votes were cast.
Reach John Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @John_F_Henry