Sept. 11, 2011, will always hold a special place in the hearts of Sun Devils. From former linebacker Pat Tillman’s heralded story of sacrifice, commitment and courage, to current defensive lineman Jake Sheffield running onto the field with the American Flag, ASU football and the armed forces have had a long and fruitful relationship over the years.
Even Sun Devil legend Frank Kush served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant, and Bill Kajikawa, the namesake for ASU’s outdoor football practice facility, enlisted with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was the Army’s most-decorated combat unit in World War II. Kajikawa lettered in football from 1934-36 and coached football, basketball and baseball over a span of five decades before retiring in 1978.
It started way back in 1898 with three players that were members of the first United States Volunteer Cavalry in the Spanish-American War, otherwise known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders”.
The school’s winningest head coach during the program’s first half-century, Aaron McCreary, served in World War I and finished his time in Tempe with a 25-17-4 record from 1923-29.
Approximately three dozen known Arizona State football players fought in World War II, including eight who gave the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action.
Ira O’Neal, who has a display dedicated in his honor in the ASU Sports Hall of Fame, served in the 42nd Aviation Squadron as a first lieutenant and was a pioneering member of the all-African American “Tuskegee Airmen” squadron, the first African-American military aviators in the history of the United States armed forces.
John Goodman, ASU’s starting quarterback in 1965-66, earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam and retired with the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal (twice), the Legion of Merit (twice), the Soldier’s Medal and the Purple Heart.
Tillman enlisted in the US Army with his brother, Kevin, and was deployed in Iraq. He was killed in duty in Afghanistan in 2004 and was a posthumous Purple Heart recipient. The Pat Tillman Foundation was created in his honor by family and friends to promote his values and ideals while also providing college scholarships to service members and their families. Click here for more info on Pat’s Run.
Tillman’s teammate, Jeremy Staat, was motivated by his friend’s death and joined the United State Marine Corps. Staat earned the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10 Conference’s top defensive lineman in 1997 and was also a First-Team All-American. He joined a fellow Veteran on cross-country “Wall-to-Wall Bicycle Ride” from Bakersfield, Calif., to Washington, D.C., to support Veteran organizations, promote Veteran suicide awareness and help fight childhood obesity.
Sheffield, a member of the Golf Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, who served two tours in Iraq, is the latest Sun Devil to have military ties and is proud to carry on a tradition that sets Arizona State apart from the rest of the nation.
*Special thanks to Joe Healey for providing the military information*
From the Arizona Cardinals and AZCardinals.com TV
Former Sun Devil football standout Pat Tillman reflects on what the American Flag means to him the day after the Sept. 11 attacks. Click here for the video
“You know it’s like anything you kind of take it for granted especially in the country we live and we are such a free society and you know we look at that flag and I like I do I’ve always had a great deal feeling for the flag. But even even someone who considers themselves that way. You just don’t think about all the time you don’t realize what gives you don’t realize how great life we have over here. Even even us as athletes we bitch and moan every now again about this — that. And if we ever used you know at times like this you stop and think about just how not only how good we have — what kind of a system we live under. What freedoms were allowed. And that wasn’t built overnight and it’s kind of that the flags — symbol of all that the symbol of you know my my great grandfather was a Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has given up you know it has gone — wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing. As far as playing myself line like that saw have a great deal of respect for those that have and what the flag stands for.” - Pat Tillman
Tidbits from practice:
- Deantre Lewis, who had the second-most all-purpose yards on the team in 2010 as a running back, was wearing a white No. 3 jersey and worked with the first-team defense as a nickel back
- Defensive tackle Mike Pennel took off his yellow scout team jersey and was working in with the first and second team defenses
-Linebacker Carlos Mendoza, who had two interceptions in the first half against Illinois on Sept. 8, will miss the remainder of the season due to a shoulder injury. He left the Illini game just before halftime