I remember hearing the collective gasp when my high school principal announced the $250,000 education that awaited me at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. It was my graduation day, and I felt great. But those people didn't know the real reason I was going to Navy. Looking back, I guess I didn't know either.
Throughout high school, I loved sports. My dream was to play in college on a full scholarship at a big school like Georgia Tech or North Carolina. As my senior year approached, it appeared football was going to be my ticket.
After my senior season, my prospects looked good. As national high school signing day (the first day high school football players are allowed to sign scholarships) approached in February 1996, I had offers to several small schools in the Southeast. But the "big-time" offers were not coming in - except one.
Throughout the recruiting process (which lasts from August through January of senior year), the Naval Academy had been very attentive. In the end, Navy's head coach offered me an appointment to the academy -- the equivalent of a full scholarship.
The prospects of playing on national TV against Army and Notre Dame were too tempting for me. Although I had ruled out my father's alma mater, Georgia Tech, because I disliked the technical curriculum, I accepted the appointment to the math-, science-, and engineering-centered academy. I just hoped I could tolerate the studies, not to mention the military lifestyle.
Let me tell you - football isn't everything.
The other freshmen and I arrived six weeks before school started to begin our "training." During this boot camp, football practice was also taking place. As the first Navy game approached, I realized that the best scenario I could hope for would put me at second string at my position, and third string was more likely. This meant playing on the junior-varsity team.
JV games aren't televised. Third-string kicker doesn't get you on the list of players who travel to away games. An 18-hour course load, including chemistry and calculus, isn't kind to a first-semester freshman who owes five hours a day to football. And the military life isn't for everybody.
I wasn't happy. I wasn't miserable. But mornings always came too soon.
I spent hours in my room in Annapolis evaluating my situation. I knew I'd done the smart thing. How could it not be right? It was a four-year, free education, with a five-year job attached at the end. Who wouldn't want that?
But, I wasn't happy. It took several long talks with my parents to make my feelings an issue. My dad, who had never pressured me to do anything in my life, pressured me then: "Brian, you've got to do what you want to do."
After contemplating my options, I made my decision. Leaving wasn't easy. Actually, it was the hardest, and strongest, thing I've ever done.
But that's when I started living my life for me, and I transferred to Samford University, in Birmingham, Ala.
Now, life is good. I wake up every day and thank God for giving me the courage to pursue happiness, not money. Not to mention football, which is going well, too. I'm now the punter on a winning team, my parents come to every game, and I'm wearing my old high school number.
Oh yeah, and I don't have to change out of one uniform to put on another.
* Brian M. Holmes is a junior majoring in journalism at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.