Playing College Football As a Veteran
November 9, 2012
Walking around campus in their football jerseys, John Fannin and Dustin Hannon look like any other college kid. They go to class and take notes. They hang out with friends when they’re not at practice or taking the field. However, what most people don’t know about these two college football players is that they are anything but typical. These young men are veterans.
Fannin, 26, and Hannon, 25, didn’t spend their late teens and early twenties stressing about exams and going to frat parties. In Ar Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq, Fannin patrolled the area as combat infantry for the Marines. Stationed in Kuwait, Hannon worked as a navy corpsman, serving as a medic for the injured. Both have experienced war and its casualties.
Although their experiences greatly differ from those of their peers, they were always determined to come home, play college football and earn a degree.
“I feel like I’m getting back that time in my life,” Hannon, sophomore kinesiology major, said. “I was going down a bad path before I enlisted and joining the Navy made me grow up. I worked in clinics with injured soldiers and I saw people die in my waiting room. I just have to remember that even though I saw terrible things, it gave me the chance to be around people of all ages and cultures, visiting places I never thought I’d ever go.”
Hannon says his time in the Navy taught him about who he is and his time at Texas Lutheran University is doing the same now as part of another type of team. The varsity receiver says he and Fannin teach their teammates as much as they teach them.
“The hardest part for me when I came back to school was learning how to handle people,” Hannon said. “I was so used to structure and regimen and keeping to myself. At TLU, I’ve become more outgoing. It’s a second home for me.”
In his first semester at TLU, Fannin is still getting used to the mentality of college kids. Although he sometimes has to stop and take a breath in moments of frustration, the junior varsity defensive end says he has taken on a big brother role for many of his teammates.
“I love being part of a team and having that bond,” Fannin, sophomore kinesiology major, said. “I was apprehensive about coming back to school, but everyone has really welcomed me. Being immersed in a combat environment in Iraq and having to make life or death decisions at the age of 19 made me grow up immediately. Playing football for TLU makes me feel like I’m getting another shot at my youth.”
Like many veterans, Fannin felt out of place when he returned home. Fallouts with former friends left him feeling like he needed a place to call his own.
“TLU is my sanctuary,” Fannin said. “I am focusing on myself for the first time in a long time. Having Dustin here makes it easier too. We share a connection and I know I can always go talk to him about anything. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to not just go back to school, but to come to TLU.”
Both young men have goals of becoming college football coaches: continuing their love of teamwork, brotherhood and camaraderie. And after everything they witnessed, both would reenlist again if given the chance. While they joke with each other about their “old person” bond and the excitement of getting to wear flip flops, the two will never forget how their service shaped them into the men they are today.
“We’re not heroes,” Fannin said, looking at the Killed In Action bracelet on his right wrist. “The real heroes are the guys who didn’t come back and they deserve everyone’s respect. To any veteran who is thinking about coming back to school, go for it. Dustin and I have had lots of experiences that colored our world. Getting an education is another one of those amazing experiences.”
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