“Dr. Howard has distinguished himself as collegiate football player, an Air Force veteran and now as a college president where he continues to be active in the sport along with providing guidance with those men and women that serve our country,” said Executive Director Brant Ringler.
Becoming the eighth president of Robert Morris University in suburban Pittsburgh in February 2016, Dr. Howard is a 1991 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. As a Rhodes Scholar, he earned a doctoral degree from the University of Oxford before graduating with an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.
In 1990, Dr. Howard received the Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the nation presented to a senior college football player, and he was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their collegiate athletic careers.
Dr. Howard is a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, the College Football 150th Anniversary Committee, and the NCAA Honors Committee.
A retired Air Force reserve lieutenant colonel, Dr. Howard served as a helicopter pilot and then became an intelligence officer for the elite Joint Special Operations Command. He served on active duty in Afghanistan in 2003 and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. Dr. Howard also served as the Reserve Air Attaché to Liberia.
As RMU president, Dr. Howard has opened the Center for Veterans and Military Families. RMU recently announced that it is partnering with the SEAL Future Fund to help active-duty and retired Navy SEALs transition to civilian careers. RMU also offers its MBA program at a deep discount to service members stationed at any of the four military bases located near its campus.
2017: KSU Football Program
Kansas State’s reception of the sixth annual Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America represents a long and fruitful relationship of the university, its football program, the Armed Forces, and nearby Fort Riley adjacent to Manhattan, Kan.
The K-State football squad was been a finalist for the Armed Forces Merit Award in both 2015 and 2016, and the Wildcats have had several initiatives with active U.S. Army and Fort Riley base.
Among the many cooperative efforts are joint physical workouts with Fort Riley soldiers, K-State’s annual Fort Riley Day with 1,000-plus soldiers and families entertained at tailgate parties and other festivities and sendoff receptions for Fort Riley personnel by members of the K-State football staff and student-athletes on deployment.
The relationship between the Armed Forces and K-State has been a model for several colleges and universities. From head coach Bill Snyder, a member of the NFF College Hall of Fame, to student managers and trainers, it has been a total joint effort of support by the Wildcats.
"We were honored to have our dear friends from Fort Riley and the Black Lions with us for one of our home games," said Bill Snyder in a recent taped message, “and proud and honored to receive the Armed Forces Merit Award."
2016: Steven Rhodes
DE, Middle Tennessee State University
Following graduation in 2007 from Antioch (Tenn.) High School where he played football, Rhodes enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a shoulder injury and financial issues initially kept him from attending college. Rhodes' "road" back to college football started three years ago when he was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in New River, N.C. When he was moved to MCAS Miramar, Calif., he started for the Miramar Falcons in 2012.
Rhodes joined the Middle Tennessee football program after serving five years in the U.S. Marines. Following his enrollment in 2013, the NCAA originally ruled that Rhodes only had two years of eligibility and would have to sit out the 2013 season since he played recreational football on base for a two-year period. After Rhodes’ eligibility story went national on August 18, 2013, the next day the NCAA issued a statement saying Rhodes could play immediately and had four years of eligibility.
Rhodes credits the Marines for "his healthy perspective and mental toughness. What the [Marines] do and what they stand for - Honor, Courage, Commitment - it stands for every aspect of my life.”
Motivated by his family, Rhodes states that his wife (Adrienne, formerly in the Navy but now a stay-at-home mom who home schools their children) and two sons (Kameron and Devon) inspire him to excel on the football field and in the classroom. Rhodes is pursuing a degree in Organized Communication. Rhodes met his wife while he was in the Marines and she was in the Navy.
2015: Bret Robertson
SS, Westminster College
After graduating from California (Mo.) High School in 2008, Robertson enlisted in the U. S. Army where he served more than three years. He was deployed to Iraq for one year and received the Army Commendation Medal along with his Purple Heart for his service.
Robertson also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star. He was also honored with the Non Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and a Combat Infantryman Badge.
After being informed he is the 2015 AFMA recipient, Robertson said he was “very humbled to accept this award and be a part of the accomplished group of veterans that have won this award before me. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in my journey to where I am now. For me, this award is a huge honor; it represents a powerful message to veterans to continue to serve after their service to our country, whether it is on the football field or in the community.”
Attending college on the GI Bill, Rodriguez was offered a spot on the 2012 Clemson team as a walk-on after coach Dabo Swinney saw a video about the former U.S. Army Sergeant and recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device for his heroism at Kamdesh.
While serving in the Army (2006-2010), Rodriguez spent approximately 18 months in Iraq and one year in Afghanistan. He was involved in Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan (October 3, 2009) when 300 Taliban insurgents battled with 38 U.S. troops (eight Americans lost their lives and 22 were injured, including Rodriguez).
Rodriguez’ story has been detailed in a book “Rise: An Epic Story of a Soldier, His Dream, and a Promise Kept,” which he co-wrote with New York Times best-selling author Joe Layden. Sony’s TriStar Productions has also secured the rights to make a movie based on the book that was released in October 2014. Rodriguez graduated from Clemson with a degree in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management.
McCoy walked onto the North Texas squad after serving five years (2004-2008) in the U. S. Army where he was discharged on August 19, 2008 after receiving numerous medals for his service time in Iraq.
McCoy's military journey began after he was kicked out of high school his senior year in 2003 for cheating, forcing him to attend summer school to earn his high school diploma. After being kicked out of his home for using drugs, McCoy lived in a drug house for a year before his father convinced him to speak with the Army about a possible career.
Upon enlistment, McCoy was assigned to the 116th infantry division at Fort Riley, Kansas. He spent 18 months in training before being assigned to the 134th armored unit, which was then deployed to Campo Anaconda in Iraq before being transferred to Taji, just 20miles north of Baghdad. McCoy's assignment for 13 months was one of the most dangerous at the time as he drove Humvees in supply runs and combat missions.
Later, the unit's mission was changed to provide convoy security for supply transport that faced countless IED attacks and roadside bombings. His security unit did not suffer a single fatality in their entire 13 months of deployment in Iraq.
"I needed the right path to go," McCoy said. "I had no discipline. In the military, you either get it or you don't. I needed that structure. It was a huge outlook change, and it let me know what I really wanted to do.”
A graduate of Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif., Boyer fulfilled a commitment he had made after 9/11 by joining the Army (and being selected as a Green Beret) in 2004. During his time serving in Afghanistan, he spent fall evenings watching the Longhorns late at night while on his tour of duty and those games gave him the inspiration to move to Austin after his tour and attend Texas to play football.
After learning that all the Longhorn deep snappers were graduating, Boyer grabbed a football and began learning about the special team’s position. After practicing in his spare time while on deployment, Boyer returned to Austin where the Longhorn coaches awarded him a scholarship where he became a deep snapper for placements.
Boyer, who played in UT's final 12 games in 2011 as the snapper on PAT/FGs and earned first-team All-Big 12 Academic honors, earned his degree in the spring of 2012 with a 3.85 grade point average in physical cultural and sports. He also was the recipient of the 2012 Disney Spirit Award, given annually by Disney Sports to college football’s most inspirational figure.