January 3, 2008

All-Americans hear what 'Army Strong' is all about

SAN ANTONIO - Elite and decorated members of the U.S. Army were introduced to the football All-Americans Wednesday at the Alamodome during the media luncheon. One of the soldiers was Sgt. Heyz Seeker, who was named the Soldier of the Year after winning the 2007 Best Warrior Competition at Fort Lee in Virginia.

"You're competing against the best of the best," Seeker said. "Our motto is 'Army Strong' and you can definitely see the strength of the Army when you're competing against these individuals. These (football players) are very skillful. They're much bigger than me. I'll definitely have something to learn from them and hopefully be able to teach them from my stories."

Seeker, based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., is in the special operations community and has served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq since January 2005.

"In that type of environment, it is very stressful, but we are trained to cope with those types of environments," Seeker said. "The military that's in there now is a very well-trained military, best in the world, and they are making a difference."

To win the event at Fort Lee, he had to best 12 other soldiers in competitions ranging from land navigation to rifle marksmanship and everything in between. These truly were the most-skilled soldiers from all levels since Seeker and the others who met in Virginia had to advance from battalion level and then up through other units to make it to Fort Lee.

"All of it is supposed to be stressful and full of pressure," he said.

The football players will be paired with a soldier for portions of this week and the two will share stories. Seeker said he hopes he can tell whichever player he is paired with about his livelihood. He said he has a lot to learn as well.

Seeker, whose father and stepfather fought in World War II, said almost all of the players are bigger than him and on a football field they might be dominant. That probably would not be the case in all settings.

"Put a 60-pound rucksack on their back and march with me in about 12 miles," he said. "I can take them on there. Some of the skills we just displayed here, the mini-obstacle course, we were falling all over the place so it's definitely something different."

East cornerback Robert Blanton knows something about the military lifestyle. He is a member of the Junior ROTC program at his high school, Matthews (N.C.) Butler, and his father and stepfather were both in the Armed Services.

Blanton, who played in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and was included on the Hot 11 list from that event, said his ROTC group goes through physical training every Friday morning, they learn drills and are involved in a host of competitive events.

When the Butler standout was presented with his U.S. Army game jersey, he wore his uniform to the ceremony. Blanton, a Notre Dame commit, said he does not plan to continue military service after high school but that his time in the ROTC has been rewarding.

"I signed up for it my freshman year and I thought it would be really cool to get that experience but there's nothing like the real military," Blanton said. "It's a lot about preparing you for life and getting you ready for college. It's a great program.

"It's truly an honor being able to represent the U.S. Army not so much playing in the All-American Bowl but being around this great group of guys who fight for our lives every day and give us the opportunity to play in this game. It's truly a blessing."

Blanton is rated as the 27th best safety nationally by Rivals.com and he is playing cornerback this week in practice. The 6-foot-1, 177-pound prospect with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash has had a few solid days.

The East's wide receiver corps is loaded and Blanton, who was also recruited by South Carolina, Virginia Tech and others, has held his own. In his junior season, Blanton finished with 147 tackles and seven interceptions.

He was high school teammates with Virginia Tech commit Eddie Whitley and uncommitted prospect Spencer Adams, who has Clemson, Florida and others on his list. Blanton, Whitley and Adams formed arguably the nation's best secondary.

"When I perform out here, it's just what I do," Blanton said. "I want to be the best at everything I do, especially at the Army All-American Bowl."

Information from an article on Inquirer.net was used in this report.

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