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Talented college football player says NFL can wait while he serves country

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The U.S. service academies have a longstanding tradition of producing strong leaders and quality individuals.

Athletes who graduate from the military academies are committed to two years of active-duty service before they can go pro. (Last May, the Pentagon rescinded a rule allowing them to request to be put on reserve status so they can sign professional contracts immediately.)

NBA Hall of Famer David “The Admiral” Robinson, a graduate of the Naval Academy, served as a civil engineering officer at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia before joining the San Antonio Spurs in 1990.

West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva deployed to Afghanistan three times, earning a Bronze Star for rescuing wounded soldiers under enemy fire, before moving on to the NFL in 2014 as an offensive tackle with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Hoping to follow in their footsteps is Brett Toth, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound offensive lineman from Army.

Toth, who is at the Senior Bowl this week with other pro prospects, wants to make a good impression on NFL scouts even though he’ll spend the next two years as an Army officer.

“The NFL dream waits until my service is done,” Toth told USA Today. “You have that dream ever since you started playing ball, or even being young and in the backyard playing ball.”

Toth didn’t expect it, but he grew into a solid pro prospect during his time at West Point. But he said even if he’d known he’d have a shot at the NFL, he wouldn’t go back and attend another school.

Do you think service academy athletes should be allowed to go pro immediately after graduation?

“People throw out there: Do I regret it? Absolutely not. I couldn’t imagine it any other way,” Toth said.

He knew right away that the U.S. Military Academy was the place for him.

“They got me on campus at West Point and I was exposed to the brotherhood — the loyalty is, I think, incomparable to anywhere else, and I was sold on it,” Toth said.

Toth said he was inspired by Villanueva along with Collin Mooney and Josh McNary, who first served as Army officers before joining the Falcons and Colts, respectively.

“They’ve shown what the military is all about and the attributes that come with it,” Toth said. “It puts it on a higher stage for the world. … For me, the big one is what the academy has to offer. My maturation process was unbelievable going there. All my coaches can attest to it and, hopefully, my parents can attest to it.

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Despite the state of the NFL this season and its national anthem protests, Toth still wants to join the league.

“There’s a bunch of character development and whatnot at West Point, and you learn to see and understand other perspectives,” he said. “I doubt that anybody that protested did that with the intent of protesting the military. All the guys that did it, when they vouched for themselves, they said that’s not the reason.

“There’s stuff that happens in the United States that plenty of people frown upon, and it’s an extreme measure they had to go to, to voice their opinion. I understand where some of them come from and I’m not going to judge them for it. Me personally, I’m not going to ever take a knee just because of what the flag means to me, and it means something different to all of us.”

We wish Brett Toth all the best and pray for his safety as he serves our country.

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