Truly Heroic

Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)

Broadcasters and fans often say things like, “that was a heroic performance” or “a truly heroic play from that quarterback”. Athletes are said to be “heroes” and children often look up to them and revere them as the personification of the human ideal. While I firmly believe that “heroism” shouldn’t be used to describe one’s athletic prowess or the actions that occur during a relatively low-stakes sporting event, many still consider sports the avenue to find heroes.

James Halford is now a Division One football player and he may one day be making plays and firing up the crowd in Bloomington. That’s not why people should consider him a hero though. He’s already done things that far exceed anything he can ever accomplish on the football field. You see, James Halford is a United States Marine.

Halford, a 6-foot-1, 215 pound 26-year old, is currently an IU student seeking a degree in secondary education. He is also a walk-on working as a linebacker and fullback on the Indiana Hoosiers football scout team. Earning a spot on a B1G football team is quite an accomplishment but the story of how he got to Bloomington dwarfs it by comparison.

His football “career” began as a freshman at Carmel Catholic in Mundelein, Illinois. After just one year, he quit to focus on becoming a standout runner. He excelled before an injury to his lower back forced him to relinquish competitive running. His grandfather was a World War II veteran and he inspired Halford to join the Marines.

“That was my inspiration,” Halford told reporters this week. “He’d definitely be proud.”

James Halford served as an infantry man and specialized as a TOW gunner that was cross-trained on machine guns. For those not familiar with military vernacular, a TOW gunner is a person schooled in the job of firing TOW missiles, or Tube launched Optically tracked Wire guided missiles. TOW missiles are wire-guided anti-tank missiles. The TOW gunner keeps the sighting system on his or her target and the system sends commands to the missile through the wires to keep the missile on target. Halford served in Australia and parts of the Pacific for 13 to 14 months but he made it clear that he doesn’t feel he’s done anything worthy of extra attention.

“Just because I was in the Marines, I don’t deserve any special treatment,” Halford said. “You serve for the country, not to get attention.”

During his service, he excelled in the weight room and during Marine football tournaments and he told his fellow Marines that he had a dream of playing Division One football when he returned to the United States. Many thought he was delusional but his friends and family encouraged him to look into his options. Halford’s sister had competed for St. Francis as a runner in Bloomington and she thought Indiana was worth looking into. So, Halford reached out to assistant athletic director for alumni relations Mark Deal and discussed walk-on tryouts.

“They told me based on my numbers, I might have a shot,” Halford said.

Halford completed his four years of active service and is now considered part of the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) force that can be called into active duty at any time. Put simply, if the United States decides that he is needed, Halford will return to combat. For now, though, he left active duty on August 1 and was in Bloomington at the beginning of September for walk-on tryouts. He competed with around 15 other hopefuls for a spot on the scout team. The coaches saw enough raw talent throughout the four-day tryout to offer him a position.

He spends much of his practice time with linebackers coach William Inge but he’s willing to try any position he’s allowed to line up at. He knows he’s very raw and has little football experience to rely upon but he’s willing to work.

“I’m open to anything, but I’ve been working with Coach Inge a lot. It seems to be going well so far, so we’ll see. In the offseason, maybe it will change. If we keep progressing, maybe we’ll see.”

As Veterans Day approaches (Wednesday, November 11), it’s important to remember the sacrifices and risks men and women like James Halford have taken to keep the United States free. But Veterans Day shouldn’t be the only time we remember our armed forces.

As the Indiana Hoosiers take the field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday to matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes, we’ll cheer for first downs and tackles for loss. We’ll roar our approval when Nate Sudfeld completes a long pass for a touchdown. That’s great and the players on the field have earned our applause through years of hard work and hours of practice. Throwing a touchdown or sacking the quarterback doesn’t make you a hero though.

James Halford won’t be getting any playing time and he probably won’t be getting any applause from a stadium full of fans, at least not this season. However, he has already earned the applause and so much more. He’s a Division One football player now but he was a hero way before earning a spot on the scout team or coming to Bloomington. James Halford is a hero because he risked it all for his country.

*Author’s Note – If you know someone currently in the military or previously in the military, please thank them for their service. Without their sacrifice, college football and many other great things we are free to enjoy may not exist. It’s not Veterans Day quite yet but our thanks don’t need to wait.*