Being across the line and having to defend offenses run by NFL quarterbacks like Tom Brady may scare some rookies, but not Josh McNary.
The Indianapolis Colts linebacker trained for far greater challenges off the field as a solider at Fort Hood.
“In the back of my mind I’m pretty familiar with the dangers that life can throw at you,” McNary said.
On Saturday, the former Army Black Knight recorded seven tackles to help the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs.
Indianapolis advances to the AFC Division Playoffs against the New England Patriots on Saturday at Gillette Stadium. The game kicks off at 7:15 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.
Filling a role
For McNary, the playoffs serve as a reward for an unconventional rookie season.
McNary signed with the team as a free agent in April and was waived on Aug. 31 only to be signed onto the practice squad the following day. The rookie from Army then became a member of the active roster Nov. 26.
“I find myself filling a role as a player and making the most out of the opportunity they give me on the field,” McNary said. “It’s something I’ll enjoy in the offseason, but right now, I’m focused on the (game).”
The road less traveled is nothing unusual for the 6-foot, 251-pound McNary. He moved from strong safety to defensive tackle during his senior year at Houston Clear Lake, led the team in sacks and received an all-district honor.
When it came time to go to college, he chose West Point.
“I’ve always seen West Point as a prestigious place,” McNary said. “A place with a lot of history and a lot of rich tradition. It’s always been in my eyes an Ivy League education so it wasn’t a very hard decision at all. When I saw that they were interested in me, I jumped at the opportunity.”
The military life and an appreciation for the freedoms the United States gave him was instilled in McNary at a young age.
His father George retired from the Marine Corps with a rank of captain, grandfather George McNary served in the Army during the Korean War, his other grandfather Aaron Figgs served in the Army during World War II and his uncle Ron McNary is a first sergeant in the Army.
After graduating, McNary served in the Army from May 2011 until spring 2013 at Fort Hood and Fort Sill, Okla. At Fort Hood, McNary was part of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment Fires Squadron.
“Being around a great group of people and my unit was one-of-a-kind,” McNary said about his time at Fort Hood.
McNary said that serving in the Army gave him a new perspective on the game of football, but he wasn’t ready to give up on his gridiron pursuits.
McNary had a stellar career at Army, recording 195 tackles, including 49 for loss and 28 sacks. He graduated as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss and is the only player in Army history to record two double-digit sack seasons.
His on-field prowess for tackling running backs and sacking quarterbacks led to one of his biggest, if not the biggest, highlight of his career.
McNary was honored at the 2011 East-West Shrine Game with the Pat Tillman Award given to the player who exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service.
“That really means a lot to me because those are the values that I grew up to really value and really hold dear,” McNary said. “People are successful at football every year, but it’s not everyday that you can be named in the same breath as an American hero like Pat Tillman.
“I was extremely thankful to hoist the award there and keep his place in everybody’s minds.”
Tillman was a former Arizona Cardinal and Arizona State University star defensive player, who left the NFL to join the Army in the aftermath of the terror attacks of 9/11. Tillman joined the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.
After making a name for himself with the Colts, he suited up for the first time Dec. 1 against the Tennessee Titans and recorded his first professional tackle a week later against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I think I was mentally ready and did my due diligence to prepare,” McNary said. “But in my first game, it definitely takes some getting used to the speed of the game and the intensity of the game before you can consider yourself ready.
“Once I got my feet wet in that first outing against Tennessee at home, I was a lot more comfortable going into Cincinnati and I was able to make a couple of plays.”
For McNary, the fight to break into an NFL roster and stay on it is a challenge he’s ready to take on.
After all, he’s prepared for more important battles and knows that he can’t take a day off from that just like he can’t get complacent and stay in the league.
“The best football players in the world fall into one concentrated league,” McNary said. “The competition is the best in the world, it’s top tier.”