by Faye Rapoport
Most professional athletes have a single goal that starts in childhood; to train, work hard and follow their dreams of making it big in their chosen sport. For Napoleon McCallum, the dreams were not so single-minded, and not so simple. He played high school football while growing up in Ohio, but was not a standout player and thought the NFL was out of his reach. His hopes stretched beyond the field to dreams of being a fighter pilot and an astronaut someday.
McCallum’s parents, both teachers, instilled a strong educational ethic in the young man. His choice to pursue college at the U.S. Naval Academy combined strong academic goals with a college football career that ended up transforming his athletic skills. He blossomed as a football player, becoming a two-time Heisman Trophy candidate and a College Football Hall of Fame inductee. Following graduation, he continued to pursue two tracks, playing a season for the Los Angeles Raiders while serving in the Navy at the same time.
Finally, McCallum decided he had to focus on one thing, at least one thing at a time. He spent four more years in the Navy, traveling around the world. After completing his service, he returned to the NFL despite his four-year absence. McCallum played five seasons as a running back for the Raiders until his football career was finally ended by injury.
Today, McCallum is a successful businessman who serves as a spokesperson for the Navy’s current African-American communication program, “Person In Me” (PIM). PIM was created to generate awareness among high school and college students of how many successful African-Americans have used their Navy experience to reach long-term career and entrepreneurial goals.
Foot.com asked McCallum about his football and Navy careers, and fit in a couple of questions about feet in the process.
Foot.com: Tell us a little about your decision to pursue careers both in the Navy and playing football?
McCallum: I was a skinny, underdeveloped football player in High School who was only the 3rd leading rusher in the Greater Cincinnati Area. I did not think much of playing Pro Football because I did not think I had a chance. For me the Navy offered me opportunity and a guaranteed job that would let me see the world. I developed while I was at the Naval Academy and even with commitment I was drafted by the LA Raiders.
Foot.com: What did you do in the Navy?
McCallum: I was an Assistant Food Service Officer on board an Amphibious Assault Ship, a Disbursing and Retail Sales Officer aboard a Nuclear Guided Missile Cruiser, and finally an Officer Recruiter and an Enlisted Programs Officer for Naval Recruiting District San Diego.
Foot.com: Did your Navy training mentally or physically help your athletic performance?
McCallum: My training helped in both ways, in that your mind controls your body and through my training I was able to push my body to new limits. I was able to expand my comfort zone and become more.
Foot.com: Was it difficult to transition back to professional football after four years in the Navy?
McCallum: It was a very difficult transition period, where I had to push myself with no real gauge of where I needed to be, because there were no other football players in the middle of the ocean to work out with.
Foot.com: What was it like playing for the Raiders?
McCallum: The Raiders are a great organization with a lot of history and camaraderie. We have the most awesome fans.
Foot.com: What kind of footwear do football players use?
McCallum: All kinds, when I played I was with Reebok.
Foot.com: Are there specific foot injuries that football players have to watch out for?
McCallum: Yes, the dreaded turf toe.
Foot.com: Did you ever suffer from any foot conditions or injuries, and if so, how did you handle or treat them?
McCallum: Turf toe and my arch in my football career. With Turf toe, sometimes we just cut a hole to let our big toe have some room and then there were a lot of sandals. For the arch in my foot, we put an arch support in my shoe.
Foot.com: What kind of injury ended your football career?
McCallum: I dislocated my knee in a Monday Night Football game against the 49ers. It took five surgeries to put my knee back together, and I still don’t have an ACL.
Foot.com: What do you do now to stay in shape?
McCallum: I love to play golf and some pick-up basketball but mainly just a lot of hard work and hard play.