Minnesota Duluth senior defensive back Tyler Morris didn't want to have any regrets about college, so he chose UMD, even if it was 1,500 miles from his hometown of Pasco, Wash.
Morris wanted to be a navigator in the U.S. Air Force, play NCAA Division II football and earn an engineering degree. Check, check and check.
"When we were looking at other schools around the country, they asked if I could only do two of the three, but Duluth was open to all three," Morris said.
Morris, an Air Force ROTC cadet, will be an honorary captain when the Bulldogs host Minnesota State-Mankato at 6:05 p.m. Saturday as part of their fifth annual Military Appreciation Day.
"It's great week to take a step back and kind of realize the bigger picture," Morris said.
It has added meaning for Morris. Both his grandfathers served during World War II in the Navy, with one being a navigator, while his cousin and role model is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. And this is a game his parents, Tom and Cindy, always make.
"This week kind of combines both aspects I've been involved with," Morris said.
Morris said he was a little homesick his first semester, like any college student, but going into the military, he knew he better get used to being away from home.
"You pack your bag," Morris said.
Morris also credited the family of teammate Kale Boomer of Grand Portage for taking him in and showing him Minnesota nice, making him feel at home whether it was Thanksgiving, Easter or Mother's Day.
"I feel like I have three families here," Morris said.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Morris has gone from UMD walk-on to scholarship player, a backup defensive back and standout on special teams. He'll graduate in May before going to Pensacola, Fla., for combat systems officers training.
"In common terms, that's your navigator, or back seater," Morris said.
The Air Force doesn't take anyone for that position. They look for complete candidates, those who combine smarts, fitness and fortitude.
Each year UMD has had a guest speaker talk to the team for Military Appreciation Day, people who have inspired Morris.
"We're honoring something bigger than ourselves this week, something those guys have stood for," Morris said. "It helps me realize I'm on the right path, and it gives me desire to match their mindset. It hits home, the humble servanthood those guys have."
This article is written by Jon Nowacki from Duluth News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.