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Academy grad fights to gain NFL foothold

Oct. 8, 2012 - 07:39AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 8, 2012 - 07:39AM  |  
Navy Officer Eric Kettani plays for the Washington...
Navy Officer Eric Kettani plays for the Washington...: Navy officer Eric Kettani and fullback Darrel Young discuss playing for the Washington Redskins.
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Fullback Eric Kettani catches a pass during practice at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., on Oct. 4. The Naval Academy grad holds one of the least secure positions in the NFL. (Mike Morones / Staff)

Lt. j.g. Eric Kettani stretched and ran through warmups a few feet from Robert Griffin III at Washington Redskins practice Oct. 4. The contrast between the two players was hard to miss: Kettani, a former Naval Academy running back, couldn't be more removed from his star teammate, a $21 million quarterback chosen No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.

As part of the practice squad, Kettani works out with the Redskins but doesn't dress for home games or travel with the team. It's the least secure spot in professional football — one the officer/fullback has earned three years after graduation and months after winning his fight with the Navy for a release from his active-duty service commitment.

"You can walk in any day and get released and not have a job," Kettani said of his place on the outer edge of professional football. "So … honestly I wake up with a positive attitude and do my job. That's all I can do."

Kettani graduated from the academy in 2009, served in the fleet for two years, then made the practice squad of the New England Patriots in 2011.

His request for a waiver from active service was denied, however, so he had to return to the frigate Klakring that October, missing the team's Super Bowl run.

He appealed the decision and won — it was announced this spring that Kettani could rejoin the Patriots, but only after paying $60,000 for his Annapolis education. After all of this, Kettani was cut from the Patriots before the season and shuffled to the team's practice squad.

He also joined a Boston-area Reserve unit. Then the team released him again.

In this latest turn of Kettani's career, the Redskins signed him to their practice squad in mid-September. He's still affiliated with Navy Operational Support Center Quincy, Mass. Kettani will soon be assigned to a D.C.-area unit, said Navy spokeswoman Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence.

"His responsibilities as part of the Reserve unit will include a component of community outreach, recruiting and public affairs," Lawrence said.

On the field, Kettani and other practice-squad members simulate opposing players during workouts, learn special-teams roles and attempt to impress the coaching staff. Kettani's play has earned praise from Darrel Young, the lone fullback on the team's active roster.

"At the end of the day, he wants to learn," Young said. "He's here to do a job, and he understands that."

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