May 8, 2012

Former Army FB, Mooney talks about signing with Titans

You can put to rest the old belief an Army football player won't have NFL options following his West Point playing days. Changing times and the new Army are turning it into a canard.

Last month, former Black Knights fullback Collin Mooney was fielding phone calls from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

Three of the teams wanted Mooney to fly in and participate as an unsigned athlete in a mini-camp starting on May 3rd. If they liked how Mooney performed, they'd sign him then. Mooney said he was about to accept Jacksonville's offer.

But the fourth team, Tennessee, didn't have its mini-camp scheduled to start until May 10. When the Titans got wind of the growing interest in Mooney around the league, they decided to get ahead of the game.

They flew Mooney into Nashville on April 30th, worked him out the next morning and had him signed him by that afternoon, May 1st.

"It happened that fast," Mooney said.

The Titans even cut a player to make room for the 5-foot-10, 247-pound Mooney, releasing fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou, who since 2009 had spent parts of three NFL seasons with Chicago, Cleveland and Denver.

"I'm excited about the opportunity," Mooney said. "My thing is I have to be consistent and I have to know the playbook perfectly. I have little room for mistakes. I have to prove myself worthy of sticking around and continuing to have opportunities."

Mooney is among a growing number of service academy players gaining shots at the NFL.

Former Army linebacker Caleb Campbell, a 2008 West Point graduate who was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round, is now preparing for his third season in the NFL. He served two years and then spent 2010 with Detroit. The Lions released him before 2011, but Indianapolis signed him to its practice squad and then he finished the season with Kansas City on the Chiefs' active roster.

"Caleb and I have talked the past couple of years," Mooney said. "We've only texted since I signed, but I'm sure we'll be talking soon. He has been supportive. Everyone has been supportive -- my wife, my family and the Army. The Army wants to see me succeed and has been supportive all the way up the chain of command. It wouldn't be possible without the Army's support."

After Campbell gained national headlines as a 2008 draft pick, the Department of Defense adopted early release procedures for circumstances such as Campbell and now Mooney.

A West Point grad must serve two years before applying for early release. Then, if granted, they must serve in the reserves double their active duty years. Since Mooney has served three years, he is committed to four years reserve duty.

Mooney, who graduated in 2009, first gained NFL feelers in 2011 after two years of service. He performed well enough at pro days and regional combines, but the NFL lockout nixed any opportunities for him to sign with a team.

He had been out of football for two years, and teams weren't going to sign him without putting him through a spring mini-camp and summer offseason practices -- what the NFL refers to as OTAs, Organized Team Activities -- to get him up to speed entering training camp in August.

Mooney thus served his third year in the Army at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and kept in shape with the hope for another chance this year.

"This wasn't an opportunity I thought about when I went to West Point," Mooney said. "I wanted to be an officer and I had applied to West Point before Army started recruiting me for football. I wasn't recruited by any other Division I schools.

"I didn't even start until my senior year. By the grace of God we switched to a triple-option offense my senior year and suddenly I'm getting 250 carries."

Mooney, who was a team captain his senior year, carried 251 times for 1,339 yards with an average of 5.8 per carry and eight touchdowns.

"To me, the record was a team thing," he said.

And once an NFL opportunity presents itself, what red-blooded American kid won't pursue it?

In the 2011 season, Campbell was one of two service academy graduates in the NFL along with Philadelphia wide receiver Chad Hall (Air Force).

In 2012, Mooney is one of three service academy graduates to have signed with a team as an undrafted free agent. Running back Eric Kattani (Navy) inked with New England and defensive lineman Ben Garland (Air Force) with Denver.

Mooney points out if he's fortunate enough to make the Titans' roster, he'll be playing in Nashville and thus 90 minutes from Fort Campbell across the Kentucky border. He plans to be waving an Army flag.

"I want to be an ambassador for the Army," Mooney said. "With Fort Campbell, there will be chances for me to do community work. I want to help Army recruit."

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