April 13, 2012
People say that someone wears different hats for different jobs or aspects of their lives. Though a hat may not always be involved, Georgia football player Jack Loonam wears three different uniforms to cover his roles.
Despite a football uniform being an obvious choice for one of them, Loonam’s journey to becoming a Bulldog would not exist if it wasn’t for the uniform he wears with the Georgia Army ROTC.
It has been a dream for the tight end to be involved with the military, stemming from watching and hearing stories from his dad who served in the military after being involved with the ROTC in college.
“Growing up and seeing the way my dad and his friends who were also involved with the military interact with each other, you could just tell that they were different,” Loonam said. “They were serious, but still joked around. They just had their head on their shoulders straight. They had so many awesome stories and just had an extra bond. It’s really cool to see. I knew that I wanted to be like my dad.”
Loonam’s dad also had a dream of being a vetenarian, which brought his family to Georgia for his dad to attend school in 1996. With the Army helping to pay for his dad’s education, Loonam quickly became a Bulldog fan while living in Athens.
Before his dad got out of the Army and completed his dream with his own animal hospital, a call came informing him that he must go to Iraq.
“I can still remember my dad getting the call,” Loonam said. “I think it was the end of 2003. I remember walking down the stairs and hearing that. I didn’t know what to say. I was in fifth grade so I didn’t know what to say at that point, and didn’t realize it until after he left. I didn’t know if he was going to come back.
“One of the things I remember most is him sitting down with me before he left for a father-to-son talk. He was telling me how I needed to be the man of the house now. He said that since I have always wanted to be like him that this was my chance.”
After his dad’s safe return from Iraq, Loonam saw his dad complete his dream with his own animal hospital located in Lexington, South Carolina, where Loonam is now from. Loonam said that the hospital has grown so much, and that his family is so blessed and lucky with everything they have been given. He also noted that none of this for his dad may have been possible without the Army, so he knew for him to live his dream that he wanted to be a part of the military.
The search began, but Loonam quickly knew that he wanted to go to Georgia. After visiting some other schools, Loonam met with Major Kevin Fracassa with Georgia’s ROTC and was sold on the program immediately.
“We met with Major Fracassa on one of my visits here,” Loonam said. “He is the scholarship officer and the main recruiter of the program, and I have never been so sold on anything. He knew all the details, benefits and cool things of the program that I didn’t realize. You get a stipend that can increase through your college years, pay for books and tuition or room and board and meal plan. The building is awesome with a lounge, computers, weight room and more. I mean a guaranteed job after college and become an officer? I couldn’t believe it.”
Through all of this, the thought of playing football also was a dream for Loonam. He made a film of his plays in high school and sent it in while also attending different camps. Loonam stayed in contact with Coach John Lilly and found out he would receive one of the preferred walk-on spots.
Once Loonam received official word he was accepted to Georgia and would receive a four-year scholarship through the ROTC, he realized he was living his dream.
“I’m pretty sure my dad and I had like the biggest silent scream because we were so excited,” Loonam said. “I only get one chance to do both of these, so I might as well take it. Military is obviously one thing you can do your whole life. Football is something you can do only once in you lifetime.”
Now in his second semester of his freshman year, Loonam is seeing the differences between ROTC and football and figuring out how to balance both.
“I started doing ROTC workouts and football workouts combined,” Loonam said. “The thing I have been trying to balance and the thing that people don’t realize is ROTC workouts are totally different from football. I have tried to balance myself—football is about how strong you can be, how fast can you be for short distances. ROTC is how much can you carry your body weight. ROTC is mostly push-ups, sit-ups, two-mile runs. Football is about short speeds and being powerful.
“I have been taking it day-by-day and trying to see what works for me. Trying to figure out a weight that’s not too heavy for ROTC but not too light that I can’t withstand some of these big guys at football.”
Every Thursday Loonam has to put on his full ROTC uniform for a lab where they practice things like squat attacks, recon and ambushes. Though he had to sacrifice going to the labs in the fall due to football practice, he now gets to attend with football in its offseason and start to build camaraderie and friendships with other ROTC students.
“It was weird,” Loonam said of putting on his uniform for the first time. “I remember that first week of school, that Thursday. It was a hot day too. The uniform is really comfortable once you get used to it. I remember putting it on and looking at myself in the mirror and being like wow. It was cool because I can remember my dad in his and now I’m wearing it. That was really cool.”
Loonam also noted that it was a great feeling to put on the Georgia football uniform.
“People would say that it is totally different, but in reality they both meant a bunch to me the first time I put it on,” Loonam said. “Of course one was like everyday in front of other students while the other was in front of thousands of people. At the same time they both had a great impact because I had to remember how hard I worked to get where I was. It was so satisfying.”
What’s the third uniform? It is that of a gentleman—something he wears all day, everyday. Loonam was recently named the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) Gentleman of the Year after being nominated by Georgia’s chapter of the organization.
Winning the award means a lot to Loonam, and he can see how ROTC and football combine to help him grow, mature and continue to be a gentleman.
“ROTC teaches us how to approach our life through their class lessons as leaders and be the best person we can be,” Loonam said. “Then our Army Code of Conduct, which I see acted out every time I'm with them, shows how they take it seriously and it works, which boils down to doing the right thing.
“Then with football, our Character Ed program was really essential to helping me maintain how I've been in college. We have it every day in our meetings before practice, and Coach Lilly does a great job of every day stressing our lesson of the day to us and how we can go use it or examples of the past pertaining to the word of the day. Coach Richt and Coach Van Halanger have done a great job with it since I've been here. Plus Coach Richt always reminds how we need to conduct and grow ourselves as men and represent the team well.”