Army’s Caleb Campbell Drafted by Detroit Lions

Army Caleb Campbell, a safety out of West Point, has been drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.

At 218, he’s going to be one of the last players chosen this year but, because of the circumstances surrounding the pick, ESPN has been featuring him heavily in its coverage today. The Army has changed its rules to allow its graduates to go directly to the NFL and, if they can make the team, to fulfill their obligation via recruiting duty and service in the Army Reserve. I discussed this rule change almost exactly two years ago at OTB. Since its inception, this is the first time that it has been invoked.

Only a handful of elite athletes have gone on the play major sports. Navy’s Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys) and David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) are the most prominent examples. Air Force’s Chad Henning (Dallas Cowboys) and Navy’s Napolean McCallum (Los Angeles Raiders) are other. All of them except McCallum, who was granted waivers because he was too tall after a growth spurt as a sophomore, were required to serve five years of active duty before joining their teams. Obviously, this both impedes the ability of the academies to recruit blue chip athletes and hinders the pro sports potential of graduates.

The ESPN coverge on Campbell focused on the fact that his classmates will graduate and serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking death, while he’s just going to have to risk concussions. But the amount of positive coverage his story is generating shows why the military thought this rule change worth making.

His gaining coach at Detroit, Rod Marinelli, is a Vietnam vet. His first coach at Army, Bobby Ross, is also a veteran — and, oddly enough, a former head coach of the Detroit Lions.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. William d'Inger says:

    Why not just let the pro teams pay for the kid’s education and call it even? Since the teams pay millions for a good player, let them drop a million on the service academy. Atheletes of that caliber are rare, so it’s not like pro sports would make a significant dent in the officer corps.

  2. SeniorD says:

    This is wrong on two counts:

    1. The Cadet signed an agreement to serve his country for at least four (4) to five (5) years after graduation. Usually for Army graduates, that means being a Butter Bar Platoon Leader.

    2. The rest of his classmates will be in the field learning how to lead men and women in combat. Cadet Campbell is doing nothing even close to that.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    The Army needs cooks and bookkeepers abroad and stateside. If they think this Cadet can fulfill his obligation as a recruiting officer and NFL player then it is their decision to make.

    He was drafted in the late rounds so he may not even make the team.

  4. JimT says:

    This kid wasn’t to be a cook or a bookkeeper. He was selected to attend (arguably) the premier military academy in the world to be one of this nation’s future military leaders. He received not only a free education at the tax payer’s expense, but a monthly stipend. All under the assumption that this is what is required to produce the future leaders of the Army. He is not fulfilling his obligation…he is getting over. I don’t care what the Supe says. Duty, Honor, Country (unless I can get a contract).

  5. Magnus says:

    I can’t understand the rationale of people like Senior D and ESPN here. Senior D, if you and I have a contract pursuant to which you are to pay 300,000 for my house, and, a year into the deal, I freely offer to lower the total price to 200,000 if you will agree to let me stick a “sold by Magnus” in your lawn and use your name in my advertising, and you accept, would that be a problem? If not, why is it a problem here? This is a case of two freely contracting parties freely agreeing to a modification of their agreement in a way that each obviously believes benefits them. Its not like the young man got his education paid for and then announced he was gay just so he could get out of having to serve, for cryin out loud…

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    Jim T,

    The “cooks and bookkeepers” statement was meant to illustrate that not all West Point grads go into battle. Indeed not all GI’s go into battle either. There are logistical concerns that must be dealt with. One of those is recruiting. Obviously Army leaders decided this would be the best use of this soldier so why second guess them?

    He is fulfilling his obligation by following the orders of his superiors.

  7. Dodd says:

    According to the NFLN guys on draft day, even at 218 Cadet Campbell is the highest drafted player ever from Army.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Army had three Heisman Trophy winners, Doc Blanchard (1945), Glenn Davis (1946), and Pete Dawkins (1958). But those guys went directly into military service and were unlikely to be drafted. Even Navy’s Roger Staubach (Heisman, 1963), who went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, served his five years. He was in fact drafted, but not until the 12th round.

    Campbell is not likely as good a football player as any of those guys. But he’s immediately eligible to play pro ball!