Napolean McCallum, NFL Oakland Raider, Running Back, Ret.

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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. asked McCallum about his football and Navy careers, and fit in a couple of questions about feet in the process. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. What kind of footwear do football players use?

McCallum: All kinds, when I played I was with Reebok. Are there specific foot injuries that football players have to watch out for?

McCallum: Yes, the dreaded turf toe. 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. 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. 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.

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