Besides Saturday's matchup with Charleston Southern marking Georgia's
next-to-last home game of the year, it's also Military Appreciation Day at
For Bulldog senior walk-on tight end and Army ROTC officer Jack Loonam,
that means much more.
While some may know his story, here's a quick refresher.
Along with his duties for the Bulldogs, Loonam's life in Athens also
consists of being an active member and leader in Georgia's Army ROTC program.
You think your day is tough? Try Loonam's on for size.
"Every morning, like 5:30 or 6, I'll got to PT, then go to class, then come here
in the afternoon. Some afternoons I've had to miss practice to go to my army
labs where we go out in the woods at Whitehall Forest, do all our stuff out
there like a platoon attack or squad ambush," Loonam said. "One weekend, when we
had an away game, we had a whole training exercise that I had to go to, so it's
been different things like that. So, during my free time from football I do Army
and free time from Army I do football. It's been tough, but I wouldn't trade it
Don't get Loonam wrong. He's certainly not complaining. As Loonam explains, very
few people get the opportunity to realize two dreams at the same time - playing
football for the Georgia Bulldogs while preparing for a life serving America as
an officer in the military.
"It (Saturday) will be really special. Hopefully if we're beating them hard
enough I'll get to play for the first time. It will be really fun," Loonam said.
"A lot of my guys will be there, a lot of Army guys. I've told them I might be able
to play but I told them to stay through the fourth quarter. If there's a big
loud ruckus from the student section, it will be from all of them sitting
Loonam's position coach with the Bulldogs has his fingers crossed that Loonam
will finally get that chance.
"I think it would be great for him and we always try to reward guys, especially
when they get deep in their careers, to give them an opportunity," tight ends
coach John Lilly said. "It would mean a lot to him and it would mean a
lot to the other guys because they knew what he's gone through to put himself in this
Loonam smiled and said that he can't even start to imagine what that moment
would be like.
"I'll be living a dream. A lot of these guys, their dream got realized the first
time they played. For me, it could be the first and last game I get to play," he
said. "It's like all I worked for in high school, that I was going to make it
here, all the hard work I went through here - the extra workouts. Even if it's
just for a few plays, it's going to make my four years here and honestly will be
one of the coolest days of my life."
A soldier in training
It's no accident that Loonam is preparing to serve his country in the capacity
that he is. His father Tim - a graduate of UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine
- won a Bronze Star after serving for 13 months in Iraq where he earned the
distinction of being the very first Army Ranger Vet in the Veterinarian Corps.
Among his duties was working on military dogs in an airborne veterinary
"I didn't know if I was going to see him again so it was tough," said Loonam,
who was 10 at the time. "I remember being in the hotel room saying good bye. It
was just the two of us. He told me I had to be the man of the house, to watch
out for my mom and little sister."
It was during his father's stay in Athens that young Jack's love for the
Bulldogs grew. It was also the first time he had thoughts that a life in the
military might be the right choice for him.
Those desires later became a reality. With a football scholarship unlikely, in
the spring of his senior year Loonam came with his father to Athens to explore
the possibility of earning an ArmyROTC Scholarship. Impressed with the battalion
and with the leader of the UGA unit, Loonam applied.
Success. And there would be more good news to come.
While in high school, Lilly would often drop by to check out one of Loonam's
more well-known teammates - current South Carolina wide receiver Shaq Roland. It
was through those visits that Loonam and Lilly became acquainted and after
sending in some film, the youngster received the words that he never thought
he'd ever hear: he was about to become a Georgia Bulldog.
"He told me that I had got their last preferred walk-on spot," Loonam said.
"That's still been the greatest day of my life."
Both father and son received the news during an in-person meeting inside the
"My dad and I left the office and we were silent for a minute, then we looked at
each other and it was like 'Oh my God,' " Loonam recalled. "My dad, on the way
home, he was tearing up a bit because he couldn't believe I got it. But I would
never have been able to do it if it were not for Army. They got me in the door."
Getting accepted as a walk-on wasn't the first thrill Loonam ever received from
the Bulldogs. After attending the Mark Richt camp as a youngster during
his father's stay in Athens, a mutual friend informed the Bulldog head coach of
Tim Loonam's deployment.
What happened next played a defining role, not only for a precocious pre-teen,
but also for the serviceman serving his country overseas.
"Coach Richt invited me and my family to a private practice back when they were
in camp when (David) Pollack and (David) Greene were there. It was in the
stadium, we were the only ones there besides the team. For a 10-11 year-old kid,
that's the coolest thing in the world," Loonam said. "(Richt) was actually
sitting in the stands, and invited me to sit with him for an hour and we just
talked. Since then, no matter what other media people or fans have said about
Coach, my father has stood by him every time since."
All in a day's work
When you command the Ranger Challenge PT Group, you stop for no one - not even
That was the case back in October, when an early morning tornado warning left
students at Georgia scrambling for cover until the danger passed.
Not Loonam. Right at the time the impending storm was expected to hit, Loonam
and his challenge group were completing their morning drill when warning sirens
began to blare.
"That morning we had a quick kind of circuit workout, then we ran around the
campus for about a mile, two miles or so. Right when all the crap started coming
down we probably had a half a mile left but we just pushed on - just like the
Army we kept driving on through it," Loonam said. "Some people were freaking
out, but I said I don't know what y'all are talking about I've been outside
running for the last few minutes. But yeah, it was crazy."
Lilly just shook his head.
"I believe that," Lilly said. "I've seen him every once in a while here really
early, so even from a physical standpoint he's had to put a little more in than
the ordinary guy at what he does with that early start, and what he does in the
weight room with us and what he does on the practice field. Nothing he does
Being a member of the Bulldog football team makes him somewhat of a celebrity
with cadets under his command.
"All the Cadet guys I'm ordering are like, 'Oh, you're so cool, you do this, you
play football, you know Todd Gurley, you know Aaron Murray, you're buddies with
them,'" Loonam laughed. "I'm like dude, you're freaking saving lives and you've
been fighting for me before I ever knew you. I know what some of those guys are
going to go do and that's so freaking awesome. To me, they're bigger celebrities
to me than I could ever be for them."
Senior wide receiver Chris Conley speaks for all of Loonam's teammates
when it comes to their respect for the security Loonam and the rest of America's
"We have a lot of appreciation for what they do, not just them but all service
people, the sacrifice they make every day," Conley said. "We're playing football
every day, but those guys are putting their lives on the line, whether directly
or indirectly. It's something that's overlooked sometimes but we're extremely
thankful for what they do."
During his years in Athens, Loonam has tried to use that same celebrity he's
enjoyed to spread the word about the Army and College ROTC. Part of that is
clearing up misconceptions regarding what taking part in ROTC is truly all
"Since I've been here, I've had more of a public image than any of them. I've
always tried to be the best I can be and all and when I get a chance to tell
everybody about the Army," Loonam said. "A lot of kids here, they're like, isn't
the ROTC a bunch of weird kind of kids that we had in high school? I'm like, no
college ROTC is so much more awesome. They've just happened to choose that they want
to be in the Army. I've been trying to advocate that to all my friends. I've
loved representing those guys and all the guys in my platoon are all awesome. I
love every one of them."
Preparing for the next step
While some of Loonam's teammates will get a chance at professional football,
most of the others will graduate, get jobs and move on with their lives.
The same holds true for Loonam, who has had to limit his weight of 210 pounds
due to the cardiovascular fitness level he's had to maintain to complete his
After graduating in May, he will head to Fort Knox, Ky., to take part in Cadet
Summer Training Camp (CSTC).
"After that I send in a packet to the Army ROTC people - it's kind of like an
assessment packet - where I'll send in all my grades, how I did in that camp,
and I'll put together how I did on my PT test (Loonam takes that Friday
morning), how my commander evaluates me. Luckily my commander has been here for
four years. He's a big Texas A&M guy so I gave him a little crap last week for
not helping us out.
"But his recommendation for me my whole four years, how he sees me in this
class, how he sees my leadership potential, is really going to mean a lot."
After that, Loonam will be commissioned. He'll receive that honor in early
August - at Sanford Stadium.
"It will be just two or three people there, right in the middle of the field,"
he said. "It will be just fitting, a perfect place for me."
In September, Loonam will learn where he will be stationed, whether he'll be
active duty or reserve, and what branch of the military he will serve.
"He loves it, and that's literally the only way that he can do it is because he
loves it," Conley said. "He's got a passion for both and he does both to the
best of his ability."
As for Loonam, he feels his mission in life is clear.
"I want to be a leader," Loonam said. "I'm proud to be a member of this football
team and even prouder to be part of the people that are serving this country."