Updated Wed, Nov 21, 2012 4:47 am
More than 70 NFL players have walked its halls, almost half of which have held starting roles at the highest level in football. Twelve of its alumni heard their names called in the first round of the NFL draft. Seven Pro Bowlers once fostered their skills between the painted sidelines of its football field.
It’s no secret that Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia is a prep school football powerhouse. Fortunately for Ohio head coach Frank Solich, three former FUMA players—Skyler Allen, Jelani Woeseley and Jamil Shaw—are now suiting up for the Green and White.
The accolades don’t stop there; these Bobcats also hail from the only school to produce two Heisman Trophy winners: Eddie George and Vinny Testaverde. Fork Union has provided a stepping stone for big-name talents such as Plaxico Burress and the late Gaines Adams as part of their journeys to the NFL.
“NFL Films came down for one of our games against Collegiate," said senior center Skyler Allen. "Eddie George came down, along with guys like Plaxico (Burress), and Vinny (Testaverde)."
Affirming Allen’s claim, senior linebacker Jelani Woesley said, “They would always come down (to FUMA). They liked to see the coaches and see how the program was doing.”
With a military background, Fork Union has much more to offer to young men than just football. The Academy instills a strong sense of discipline into its cadets. Redshirt junior cornerback Jamil Shaw described the everyday lifestyle very strict, routine and orderly.
Allen vividly remembered the discipline: “Waking up at 5:55 a.m. every morning and cleaning your room… Pretty much everything throughout the day is scheduled,” he said. “You don’t vary schedules. If you do, you get in trouble.”
All three Bobcats additionally recalled Fork Union’s strict rules involving social media. Cadets are not permitted to use Facebook and Twitter. No cell phones are allowed, either. Contact with the outside world is only permitted via email.
This means cadets must communicate with friends and family members back home the old-fashioned way. “You have payphones that you can use an hour or two through the day. There is a line of 10 payphones for 600 cadets,” said Allen.
Besides football, the strict nature of the Academy may seem like a deterrent. However, the three alumni’s experiences show that is certainly not the case. They embraced the discipline and, as a result, grew into adults both on and off the football field.
“I figured I could fit (Fork Union) well and get a lot of discipline out of it. It shaped me as a man,” said Woseley.
Another aspect that all look back on positively is the camaraderie that they experienced not just with fellow football players, but also with their fellow cadets.
“The people that you meet there, the cadets, are closer than friends that you would have at home,” said Allen. “You live with them, eat with them, sleep with them and breathe with them.
“You all get yelled at together. All of that combined bonds you.”
According to Woseley, the friends that a cadet makes at Fork Union are not just close for the time enrolled at the Academy. “I can still keep in contact with those friends across the country,” said the linebacker, almost four years removed from FUMA.
All three ‘Cats agree that, despite the valuable lessons and discipline they acquired in Fork Union, Va., one event stood head-and-shoulders above the rest: Graduation Day.
“You just go through so much there,” said Woseley. “You’ve got to be mentally strong. It’s not for everybody. A lot of people break, so if you make it to the end it’s a happy day.”
“It’s a relief (to be free of restrictions),” added Shaw.
Upon graduating, the three former cadets had another life-altering decision to make: deciding where to play college ball.
It’s clear that these three former Blue Devils did not end up on the same college playing field by accident.
“OU came [to Fork Union] a lot, and we built strong relationships with the coaches,” said Shaw. “We liked those connections early on in our careers.”
Allen and Shaw visited Ohio together. Both liked the atmosphere of the campus so much that they committed to becoming Bobcats during their visit. When the pair returned to Fork Union after their commitments, another teammate was still was undecided on where to take his talents.
“(Woseley) was looking at UConn,” said Allen. “‘We told him that he had to check out OU.’”
Before Shaw and Allen knew it, Woseley visited Athens and followed in their footsteps by committing to the Bobcats.
Campus life and coaches aside, there was another big factor in their decision to commit; the three realized that Frank Solich was building something great in Athens.
Speaking for his teammates, Allen said, “We felt like we had a really good incoming class. The class before us was also a really good class. We weren’t coming to lose.
“I’ve never been a part of a losing program.”
They were right. The 2009 incoming class included starting quarterback and captain Tyler Tettleton as well as running back Ryan Boykin. The 2008 class boasted the likes of defensive lineman Tremayne Scott, kicker Matt Weller and team captains Gerald Moore and Jordan Thompson.
Great players yield great success. Ohio has made three consecutive bowl appearances since the 2009 recruiting class showed up in Athens, and won its first ever bowl game last December.
Shaw admitted the groundbreaking success the Bobcats have enjoyed caught him off guard. “I couldn’t see this (much) success coming,” he said.
While happy with his team’s success, Shaw has been ruled out for the season, nursing a shoulder injury.
The cornerback will already be at Ohio a season longer than his Fork Union teammates because he was redshirted as a freshman, and he will look to apply for another redshirt season due to his injury.
“It’s going to be different playing without Skyler and Jelani,” he said, “We’ve all been friends for six-plus years.”
Through more than six years of their lives spent together, brought together by football, Shaw maintains that all three still talk everyday.
“We laugh and joke around, laugh about our past,” he said.
Wherever their lives after college football take them, it is evident that these three men are confident in the lasting power of their friendship. When asked if their experiences have bonded the three together, forever, Woseley and Allen said jointly, and without hesitation:
Shaw later added:
“Friends for life.”