Extra points: Military time – University of North Carolina Athletics

By Lee Pace

Planning, implementation and debriefing. Order, structure and punctuality. Teamwork and chain of command. Persevering through pain, discomfort and difficult circumstances. The parallels between a military operation and a soccer team are significant.

“We had a saying in the Seals, ‘Seal training is easy, all you do is never give up,'” says Mike Argo, a Tar Heel defense attorney who wrote letters in 1978-79 before going to a three Decades-long career as a US Navy Seal. “We had another one who said, ‘The only easy day was yesterday.’

“It’s the same type of environment in football, especially in training camp and spring training. There’s a level of mental torture and discipline you get from football that prepares you well for Seal training. It’s the same kind of environment.”

Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Kenan Stadium when the Tar Heels meet Georgia Tech at 5:30 p.m. Flags of the different branches of service are hoisted in the stadium. A combined color guard will gather for the national anthem, and more than 50 ROTC members and veteran Rams Club members will fly a giant American flag across the field. Viewers who are veterans or active duty are asked to stand up and be recognized after the first quarter.

The game itself is at stake – the Tar Heels are struggling to continue a six-game winning streak and defend their 13th-place finish in the College Football Playoffs and prepare for a regular-season showdown with NC State; quarterback Drake Maye with his burgeoning candidacy for the Heisman Trophy; and Yellow Jacket interim coach Brent Key, who is cobblering together a resume that he hopes will help him land the tenure.

But three people on the outskirts of Carolina have a unique perspective on the Military Day theme Saturday. The pomp and ceremonies that paraded Kenan Stadium was real life for her in her 20s.

Defensive back coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlton Warren graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1999 and served six years on bases in Georgia and Florida before joining the Air Force as a coaching profession in 2005. Rising to the rank of major, he saw his work in avionics and drone technology applied to the early stages of the post-9/11 war on terror.

“Football is really important and I want to win and be competitive like the next man, but I also feel like there are bigger things in the world than football,” Warren said. “There are so many people from my 10 years of active duty or as a trainer in the Air Force who are serving today and for them it’s a matter of life or death. You never lose track.”

Dean Moege, assistant strength and conditioning coach, joined the Army in 2005 after high school in Kansas, toured Iraq and Afghanistan, and left the service in 2010 to pursue his education in exercise science. He graduated from Carolina in 2013 and has been on the Tar Heel team since 2014, working first under Lou Hernandez and now under brian hess.

“In the military you have to pay attention to the details,” says Moege. “There are dire consequences if you don’t do it. A lot of the same principles apply here in football. The little things make big things. You take care of the little things and you take care of your business and everything runs smoothly. When you get bad, they get exponentially worse very quickly, what I instill in the guys is a constant attention to detail, they’re getting better every day, don’t take a day off.

And Drake Fontenot, a merit nutrition scholar, joined the Marine Corps two years out of high school in Louisiana and was stationed at Camp LeJeune for four years beginning in July 2012. He was deployed abroad for eight months when the United States launched a campaign of targeted airstrikes against ISIS in 2014. He joined Chapel Hill in June 2022 and works on the nutrition team to ensure the Tar Heels are getting proper nutrition at the training table and beyond.

“I didn’t play college football or high school football. I thought I was too skinny and my mother thought if I got hit I would collapse,” says Fontenot. “I ended up signing up because I wanted to find out what I’m made of as a man. The Marine Corps has a reputation for being the toughest and toughest, so I just picked the toughest and toughest I could find. It was quite an experience. You are away from family and friends and at home, you are in a foreign country surrounded by people who want to hurt you. You see things a little differently, you see the world from a different perspective.”

Military headshots
LR: Charlton Warren, Dean Moege, Drake Fontenot

Military Appreciation Day has been celebrated in Carolina and other institutions across the country for about a decade. The Atlantic Coast Conference supported the idea in the early 2010s of having its institutions dedicate one home game per year to honoring their students and alumni with military connections, as well as the entire universe of soldiers and soldiers. At their first Military Appreciation game in 2012 against the University of Idaho, the Tar Heels wore helmets with custom decals of the interlocking NC logo, which consisted of the red, white, and blue Stars and Stripes. One year, Warren Green, a former Tar Heel deep snapper who served on two military tours in Iraq, piloted an Apache helicopter over the stadium during pregame ceremonies.

Charlton Warren will focus on his cornerbacks and safeties as Saturday’s kickoff approaches, but he will pause at some point to recall the trigger from his Atlanta childhood that changed the course of his life.

Warren was raised in Conley, Georgia, a south Atlanta suburb, and was about to attend Forest Park High School in the early 1990s when one day he encountered the high school’s ROTC drill unit. He stopped to watch and was fascinated by the fast pace and precision and the group leader, Major Bill White, asked if he would like to join in and give it a try.

“I knew nothing about the military, no one in my family had been in the military, but I was amazed by the discipline and accountability I saw that day,” Warren recalls. “These 15 and 16 year olds led each other and seemed so confident in what they were doing. I came to ROTC and Major White became my mentor. For four years I started at every football game and wore a uniform to school every Tuesday and was the commander of my department.

“You never know where that spark will come from. All you have to do is inspire a person. If a person thinks about joining the military based on what they see or hear on game day, then it’s worth it.”

For Moege, that spark was an uncle he admired who had served in the military, and his own desire to leave home “to do something else.” He enlisted in the army, became a paratrooper, was stationed in Alaska and from there twice deployed to the Middle East. After Lou Hernandez lost his job when Larry Fedora was fired in 2018, Moege’s future was in the hands of Mack Brown‘s new strength and conditioning coach. With brian hess When he came to Chapel Hill after four years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Moege’s faith in staying there was spot on.

“You’ll do a job in the army, it’s very easy,” says Moege. “Some people make it more complicated. Coach Hess has a great West Point quote: ‘It’s so hard, it’s easy. You are trained for what you do. So when the time comes, you just do your job.’ It’s very similar to a football team.”

Fontenot recalls getting off the bus at Parris Island and stepping on the famous yellow footprints. “Head down, don’t speak,” the drill instructor implores. This is the official bridge between life as a civilian and beginning 13 weeks of collapse and rebuilding to become a member of what the Marines like to call “the world’s finest military force.”

“It’s two or three in the morning and the bus is leaving,” says Fontenot. “It kind of hits you, ‘Okay, there’s no going back now.'”

No turning back, indeed. That’s why, for some, the nightly newsfeed includes not only the top 25 results, but also results from Ukraine and other hotspots around the world.

Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace, now 33, writes about the Carolina football program under the Extra Points banner. He is the author of “Football in a Forest” and reports on the sidelines of the Tar Heel Sports Network broadcasts. Follow him on @LeePaceTweet and message him [email protected]