EDITOR’S NOTE - This is the fifth in a series of articles about nominees for the second annual Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).  Also nominated were Kelly Davison of UCF, Michael Kelley of UTEP, Brandon McCoy of North Texas and Stephen Rhodes of Middle Tennessee.

Jake Sheffield, a senior defensive lineman at Arizona State, has been nominated for the 2013 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

Coordinated by the staff at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.”  The second recipient of the award will be announced November 11 on Veteran's Day.  Bronze Star winning Green Beret solider Nate Boyer, a member of the University of Texas football team, was the first recipient last November of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.

Sheffield has played in all seven games this season for the Sun Devils after competing in nine games at defensive tackle in 2012.  His top performance last season came against Oregon and Sheffield also played in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl when the Sun Devils defeated Navy 62-28.

In a letter supporting the nomination, Arizona State coach Todd Graham wrote that Sheffield was "one of the finest young men I have been associated with.  I have coached more talented players on the field, but Jake's character and work ethic is second to none."

Graham credited "Jake with showing his teammates the right way to handle themselves, on and off the field.  Jake's background - his service, his sacrifice and his dedication to his country and countrymen - help myself and the rest of the team put things in perspective."

Sheffield, who spent approximately 18 months serving two tours of duty in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps, enrolled at Arizona State in December 2011 after earning all-league honors for College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif.  Prior to enlisting in the Marines, Sheffield graduated from Aurora (Colo.) Gateway High School in 2005 where he was an all-state offensive guard.

In a May 2012 article on ESPN.com, Sheffield was "inspired" by Pat Tillman.  "It's one of the reasons Sheffield joined the service and a significant reason why the 25-year-old opted to resume his football career at ASU," wrote Kevin Gemmell.  "Pat Tillman was such an inspiring guy," Sheffield said.  "And everything I read made it seem like the community there [around ASU] really respects the military.  That helped the decision."
The ESPN.com article noted that Sheffield's size earned him a task "to carry and load the 120-pound, 155 -millimeter rounds for the artillery cannons.  His unit would also provide convoy cover for Iraqi soldiers just out of boot camp.  But the most daunting and dangerous assignment was to provide protection for the ordnance disposal unit.  Those are the guys who go out looking for bombs.  Sheffield's job was to have their back.  He was, essentially, the tip of the sword."

Sheffield say in the article that the thing that "scared” him the “most was the roadside bombs.  They disguise them pretty well.  There is anxiety all the time.  But you do what you have to do to survive.  You never know when you're going to get attacked. [Improvised explosive devices] were their primary weapon so when they saw us taking out their weapons, they got pretty upset about that."

Gemmell wrote that "Sheffield isn't the first soldier to return from war and go on to participate in college athletics.  And he won't be the last. But each story is unique.  And each soldier brings his scars, experience and perspective to his new team."  Graham told the writer that "you can look into his (Sheffield) eyes and know what he's been through.  You can tell he's seen a lot.  I think the thing that really sticks out to me is the heart he has. He's a great reminder every day of the price we pay to play this game and the freedom that we have."

Former Sun Devil linebacker Brandon Magee said Sheffield "went to war, so I have the utmost respect and so do the other teammates.  (His) maturity is sky high. It’s a mentality he’s got and it shows.  I’m happy he’s on my team.”""""