Hunter Frantz and Chris Jackson signed national letters of intent like thousands of other high school athletes Wednesday. Few made the same kind of commitment. The football teammates at Putnam City North High School are headed to military service academies. Frantz is going to Army, Jackson to Air Force. On a day when commitments became contracts, they did more than agree to play football for the next four or five years. They also pledged the next decade of their lives to the military. "It’s a very big commitment on their part,” PC North coach Bob Wilson said. "It says a lot to these kids’ character.” On Signing Day 2009, many stories will garner larger headlines and bigger hype. Demontre Hurst changing to Oklahoma. Tracy Moore sticking with Oklahoma State. Reuben Randle picking LSU. But in these tumultuous and uncertain times, no storyline should make us prouder than this one. Frantz and Jackson chose not only to play but also to serve. Athlete or not, tuition is free at the service academies, but the trade-off is a five-year military commitment after graduation. That goes for football players, too. Even really good ones. They can request to pursue careers in professional sports while working as part-time military recruiters, but first, they must serve a minimum of two years in active duty. That’s what Roger Staubach had to do before the Navy allowed him to start his NFL career. Another former Cowboy, Chad Hennings, had a commitment with the Air Force, flying combat missions over Iraq before tackling ball carriers in Irving. The active-duty requirement of the service academies made headlines last spring when the Detroit Lions drafted Army safety Caleb Campbell. Several years ago, West Point adopted a more lenient stance that would’ve allowed Campbell to avoid any active duty. He signed with the Lions, but on the eve of training camp, the Army notified him that it had changed its policy to require two years of active duty.
‘A great future’Neither Jackson nor Frantz is fazed by the military requirements. "I know after I graduate, I’ll be guaranteed a job, which is more than most graduates can say,” Jackson said. He smiled. "Feels great because I know I’ve got a great future.” Frantz said, "I get a chance to serve.” Most teenagers have a difficult time deciding what to do with the next hour, much less the decade of their lives. Jackson and Frantz had other options. Jackson considered TCU and Dartmouth while Frantz entertained offers from Drake and Harding (Ark.) University. They could’ve just gone to college, played football and figured out later what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. Instead, they decided Wednesday. Life for everyone at the Air Force Academy, the United States Military Academy and the Naval Academy is demanding. They must iron their clothes and shine their shoes, tidy their rooms and study their notes, and they must do that before class even starts. Add football to the equation, and it makes for a lifestyle that isn’t for everyone. "They said it will be hard,” Frantz said, "but everyone else is going through the same thing.” It takes a special person to choose such a path, but doing so as an 18-year-old is even more impressive. Growing up, Frantz never dreamed about going to West Point and playing for Army. "But now that I am,” he said, "it’s like a dream come true.”