Welcome to our Alumni Feature! We have had players graduating from our program since 2005 and we have many alumni doing great things, so we thought it would be a good idea to periodically highlight a few of them. Our first feature puts the spotlight on our past players attending service academies. Currently, we have 3 players, T.J. Varley, a senior at the Coast Guard Academy, Blake Knox, a sophomore also at the CGA, and Zach Norrod, a sophomore at the Merchant Marine Academy. I sent questions to T.J. and Zach to get a feel for their experiences. As you will read, they are both exceptional young men.
What attracted you to attending a Service Academy?
TJ - A service academy is extremely challenging, but came with a lot of benefits. Its nice that school is paid for, but the training we do here to prepare for the work after is very rewarding in itself. To be given the opportunity to serve my country in this manner is challenging and hard at times but so very rewarding.
Zach - My Dad was in the Air Force for 22 years so I was always leaning toward some type of career that included the military and it’s a privilege and honor to get selected to attend a Service Academy. After investigating the US Merchant Marine Academy, or KP as we call it because it’s located in Kings Point, New York, it was a no-brainer! After graduation, I’m not tied down to one branch of the military or the Coast Guard. I can choose any of the branches of the military, to include the Coast Guard, to serve out my commitment as a commissioned officer or I can choose to work in the US maritime industry. It was truly the best place for me because now, upon graduation, I have options!
Both of you guys grew up in Tennessee. Did working on large watercraft on large bodies of water take some getting used to? What are some things that surprised you about being at sea for an extended period?
TJ - I grew up going on many cruises and deep-sea fishing with my family. That being said, working on large watercraft for an extended amount of time was definitely something that I had to adjust to. Being confined for weeks at a time can be nerve-racking but I just had to find ways to make it normal.
Zach - It is definitely challenging, mentally and physically. In order to earn a US Coast Guard license upon graduation, which you must have to work in the maritime industry, we must have over 300 days at sea during our four years at the academy. I wouldn’t say it surprised me but it’s just an adjustment to being out on the water and not having easy contact with family and friends as the internet is spotty at best. When you are out in the open water you realize how little we all are as the ocean can be very intimidating, especially when it is angry, it’s very powerful.
TJ, you are playing for the Coast Guard Academy. What kind of experience has that been for you?
- Lacrosse has been a huge part of my life throughout my time at the academy. It has definitely had its challenges but has helped me a lot with enhancing my teamwork and leadership qualities. Coming from Tennessee, I really had to adjust and adapt to such a faster pace and level of play. Surrounded by teammates who grew up in hotbeds of lacrosse, I had to definitely work really hard in order to get my role on the field, but it has been such a rewarding experience and I now have a new family of brothers. Playing lacrosse at the collegiate level has definetly been a great experience, and this year, WE WILL beat Kings Point! Go Bears! Beat KP!
Zach, when spring rolled around during your freshman year at Merchant Marine, did you feel like you needed to be on the lacrosse field? Did you miss it?
- I do miss being on the field. When spring rolled around my freshman year, I have a few buddies who play on the KP team (which has beaten the US Coast Guard team 3 years in a row) and they tempted me to practice with them, however, I also committed myself to an optional Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program that took up a few nights a week and six hours on Saturday, so during the spring I was really maxed out with my regular class work and the EMT class work. After I passed my New York state certification to work as an EMT, I spent a lot of my free time working with the Great Neck New York Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Company so again, I just didn’t have a lot of time for lax. However, I’ll never forget the awesome feeling of being on the field, the anticipation of the faceoff – it was amazing.
TJ, you are graduating this year. Do have any input in what or where your first assignment will be?
I won't find out where I am getting assigned until March, but I put in my dream sheet soon and I am hoping for boats on the East Coast, specifically in Florida. Either way, I am going to be a Deck Watch Wfficer on a Coast Guard cutter. This assignment will be for two years before I can relocate to another assignment. Like other service academies (except USMMA), we are obligated to five years of active duty following graduation.
Zach, you are a sophomore at the Merchant Marine Academy and have been at sea for a few months. How is that going?
- It’s going really, really well. I’m on the Maersk Kensington (look it up) and Maersk is the largest and most successful shipping company in the world. They don’t play! It’s all very professional. The Captain and his staff are very serious and the Captain is like a head coach – he has to make sure everyone is doing their part and carrying out what is expected of them. We will have a little time to spend in Dubai so I’m excited to get there and to check it out. We ate dinner in Oman two days ago at a nice place overlooking the Arabian Sea and it was incredible! While at sea, we have a “Sea year project” that we must complete as part of our course work. When I’m not working with the crew, I’m trying to complete my project. I’ve immersed myself in getting it completed so there isn’t much down time at all. Hopefully I’ll have it completed soon and then the last month on board I can get a little more sleep.
What advice you would offer to high school students interested in pursuing an appointment to your academy?
TJ- I received appointments to both the Coast Guard Academy and the Naval Academy. After looking at the various missions, and job satisfaction rates following graduation I chose the Coast Guard. It is a great fit for me. Keep your grades up but try and be as well rounded as possible. Take on leadership roles in sports, clubs and extra-curricular activities. Try and be a part of clubs, teams and events that you can put on your resume to make yourself stand out from other applicants. Take the ACT often, and score high, especially in math. Good Luck!
Zach - Options! If you aren’t really sure exactly what you want to do but you think you want to be at an Academy, check out the USMMA. You have a lot of options upon graduation. There is a lot of tradition at KP and I’m very proud to be a part of the KP family. Advice: Get your grades up the best you can, retake the ACT a few times and get your score up, get an ACT study guide and review, review and review some more. Volunteer in the community and not just volunteer but LEAD a volunteer effort. Take a leadership role on the sports team you are on. If you are in the Boy Scouts, the Civil Air Patrol or the Jr. ROTC – that helps also. If you are in a church youth group, lead them to do something in the community. They want leaders at all the academies, not just followers. Set yourself apart from everyone else. If you want it, you have to be serious about it and work for it. It’s not given to you. Good luck!