- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2013


The No. 40 jersey and helmet were gone, but sweat still trickled down Eric Kettani’s forehead.

Practice ended a half-hour earlier at Redskins Park. That gave the fullback who spent Monday with the first-team offense enough time to slick down his hair and swap uniforms.

Kettani stood on a small stage in Navy khaki with creases that could cut glass, cap tucked under his belt and right hand raised. A green towel and water bottle sat off to the side. Lt. Matthew Harmon, his friend and former Naval Academy teammate who flew in from Japan, read from a blue card that fit in his hand.

“I, state your name,” Harmon said.

“I, Eric Kettani,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Newly promoted U.S. Navy lieutenant Eric Kettani eyes Redskins roster spot

“Do solemnly swear.”

“Do solemnly swear.”

About 30 Redskins in T-shirts and burgundy shorts leaned against walls and sprawled on chairs in the back of the auditorium. They kidded Kettani about the uniform when he changed in the locker room. He joked that they’ll need to salute him because he was being promoted to lieutenant.

Buddy and long snapper Nick Sundberg sat in the front row in a green T-shirt.

“I tried to dress up for the event,” he told Kettani’s family with a smile before the ceremony.

No uniform, khaki or burgundy, completely holds the 26-year-old Kettani. He spent three years on active duty, deployed aboard the frigate USS Klakring with 20-hour days and enough stress to make high-pressure situations seem normal. Last summer, he cut a deal with the Navy to trade his final two years of active-duty service for seven years in the reserves. That allowed the 2009 Naval Academy graduate, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards while studying economics, to end his tug-of-war between serving his country and pursuing professional football.

The Redskins stashed him on the practice squad last season, then gave him a three-year reserve/futures contract in January. That’s why coach Mike Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner stood on the stage in dress shirts and slacks. Kettani looks at them as mentors.

“To support and defend.”

“To support and defend.”

“The Constitution of the United States.”

“The Constitution of the United States.”

Kettani’s reserve duties take him from the Pentagon to Andrews Air Force Base to Naval Support Facility Anacostia on weekends. Earlier this year, he spoke at military bases in California and Alaska. The NFL, really, is another opportunity for him to represent his service. All this can be exhausting, but Kettani doesn’t mind. He signed up for this.

The 73-word oath ended. Cameras clicked. Teammates hooted and hollered.

After a bit of trouble, Shanahan pinned the dual silver bars of a lieutenant on Kettani’s left collar. Turner handled the other side.

“I’m not very experienced at that,” Shanahan said.

Laughter cascaded through the room.

“Appreciate it,” Kettani said. “Thanks, guys.”

After 3 minutes and 45 seconds, the ceremony ended. A wide grin covered Kettani’s face as his family visiting from Ohio clustered around for pictures.

Later, Shanahan quipped that he’ll start saluting Kettani after the promotion. The coach couldn’t spit out enough adjectives to describe him. Not as a football player gifted with the ability to run the ball as well as he can block.

“Well, he’s a great representative for our country because he’s everything you look for in a person,” Shanahan said. “To have a guy like that, you feel very secure.”

Little about Kettani, other than his 5-foot-11, 240-pound frame, fits the mold of an ordinary football player. His dual careers somehow leave time to pursue the StateRoots clothing line he created, and painting. Kettani does custom pieces for teammates and even painted a 4-foot-by-4-foot piece for Patriots owner Robert Kraft called “Wide Left.”

None of this surprises his father, Mounir. The father is a self-acknowledged multitasker, always up to something while running his business buying and selling aircraft parts.

“He was always like this,” Mounir Kettani said. “Always a go-getter. Always wants to be No. 1. Always. An A for him wasn’t good enough. He was determined, you know.”

Kettani is a long shot to make the 53-man roster behind veteran fullback Darrel Young. But he has another season of practice-squad eligibility. The deal with the Navy won’t interfere if he makes the active roster. And long odds, really, aren’t much of a deterrent. Not for someone far from the average player on the edge of an NFL roster.

“That’s my No. 1 job,” Kettani said. “This is my priority.”

More sweat appeared on his forehead. He brushed it away with the green towel. More work remained.

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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