ASHBURN, VA. — Eric Kettani is the only Navy Reserve officer in the NFL.
He is older than 55 of the 90 players on the Washington Redskins’ roster. Twenty-six is getting up there for someone who has yet to play in a regular season game.
“It’s quite unusual to do what he’s done,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “To have that type of drive (to do) what he does for the service (and) what he does on the football field keeps him pretty busy. He’s got a chance to compete for a position.”
Kettani, who was on New England’s reserve/military list while serving three years of active duty following his 2009 graduation from the Naval Academy, spent last season on Washington’s practice squad after being released by the Patriots.
Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner have made such an impression on Kettani that he asked them to participate in the ceremony in which he was commissioned as a lieutenant on Monday.
“They’re great influences in my life,” said Kettani, a Mentor, Ohio native. “It was a great experience, one that I’ll cherish. My good friend, Lt. Matthew Harmon, who was a kicker on our (Navy) team, did the swearing-in. My family was there. My sponsor family from the Naval Academy was there.”
So were several teammates including starting fullback Darrel Young, who began his career on the practice squad and whose older brother, David, is an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Hood (Tex.).
“You never know what’s going happen when you go out on the battlefield,” Young said. “We’re just asked to run 100 yards and entertain 100,000 people. Eric’s a good dude. He’s smart. You tell him something one time and he’ll get it. He’s a good football player. People take the practice squad for granted, but it’s a seven-days-a-week job. Eric’s on the team. That’s how I look at it.”
Kettani started his final two years at Navy, including two bowl games and a victory over Notre Dame that ended the Midshipmen’s string of 43 straight losses to the Fighting Irish. Now after switching from active duty — that included 6 1 / 2 months circumnavigating South America aboard the USS Klakring — to seven years in the reserves, he just wants to be an active player again.
“I’m a 10 times better player than I was when I was at the Naval Academy,” said Kettani, who scored on a screen pass during Thursday’s practice. “I didn’t really understand football until I came to the NFL. I’m trying to make the 53-man roster in any way possible. I’m working on all four special teams. I love kickoff, running down to the end zone and looking to hit someone. That’s my mentality.”