Fort Worth, Texas — Five finalists have been named for the 2021 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) – defensive lineman and Marine veteran Damian Jackson of University of Nebraska, Navy veteran and coach Robert Green, Troy chancellor and Marine Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Battlefields to Ballfields founder Mike Pereira, and Nevada coach and Army veteran Jordan Simmons.
Jackson advanced to the final round of voting in 2019 for the award while the others are all first-time finalists.
The announcement of the 2021 Armed Forces Merit Award recipient will be made via an 11 a.m. (CT) teleconference Thursday, Nov. 11 – Veteran’s Day – by Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Executive Director Brant Ringler and FWAA President Heather Dinich.
Created in June 2012, the award honors an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.
The Armed Forces Merit Awards selection committee is comprised of seven FWAA members and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. A total of 28 individuals and three programs were nominated for the 2021 award.
Past recipients of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA include Nate Boyer of the University of Texas (2012), Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas (2013), Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University (2014), Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo., 2015), Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University (2016), Dr. Chris Howard from Robert Morris University (2018), Army West Point assistant coach Mike Viti (2019) and Collin O’Donnell of Bluefield College of Virginia.
Boyer (long snapper), McCoy (defensive lineman), Rodriquez (wide receiver), Robertson (defensive back) and O’Donnell (defensive lineman) served in the Army before playing collegiate football. Rhodes, a Marine, played four seasons at Middle Tennessee and participated in the 2013 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl with the Blue Raiders. Viti (fullback) played at Army West Point prior to his military service.
A 1991 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Dr. Howard was a Rhodes Scholar and recipient of the 1990 Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the nation presented to a senior college football player. A member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee (2017-19), Dr. Howard was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame and a recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their collegiate athletic careers.
Kansas State and its football team were honored in November 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 34 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes five early-season college football games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events and a college softball event, which accounts for approximately 400 hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in more than 10 markets across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans. For more information, visit the official website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages.
The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA, http://www.sportswriters.net) Founded in 1941, the FWAA consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team.
Robert B. Green is in his ninth season at the Naval Academy and his seventh as a coach on the field. He is also in his second year as the Director of Racial Equality for the Navy football program. Green spent his first two years as the Director of Player Development assisting Coach Ken Niumatalolo and the officer representatives with professional development and molding of Navy football players to assume future positions of leadership in the Navy and Marine Corps. A 1998 Navy graduate where he was a three-year starter as a defensive back, Green was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps in May 1998. Green retired from military service in the summer of 2017. As a Marine, the former Lieutenant Colonel’s personal decorations include Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (2nd award), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2nd award), Meritorious Service Medal (2nd Award), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and Legion of Merit.
Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., a member of the College Football Playoffs’ Board of Managers as a representing for the Sun Belt Conference, has been the Chancellor of Troy University since September 1, 1989. After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1967 from the University of Montevallo, Hawkins served in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a platoon leader during the Vietnam War. For his combat duty, he received the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and a citation from the Korean Marine Corps. Dr. Hawkins was an assistant dean at UAB and president of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. Dr. Hawkins is the longest serving CEO of a public university in the nation. In 30-plus years at the school, Dr. Hawkins has orchestrated the change of Troy’s name, a move to Division 1-A and help oversee the investment of $400 million in new and modernized facilities. During Dr. Hawkins’ tenure, Troy University has been recognized as a leading institution for members of the military and veterans by U.S. News and World Report, GI Jobs, Military Times Edge, Advanced Military Education, and more.
Damian Jackson has played in every game this season at the University of Nebraska as a backup outside linebacker. Nominated for the Armed Forces Merit Award for the past three seasons, Jackson was a finalist in 2019. He has made the Big 10 All-Academic team that last three seasons. Joining the football team in 2017 as a walk-on, Jackson was placed on scholarship for the 2020 season and has now played in the last 13 games for the Cornhuskers. Jackson served as a member of the Navy SEALs for four years after graduating from Shadow Ridge High School in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2010. He was not a member of the football team in high school but did participate in baseball and soccer. A child, youth and family studies major, Jackson is on pace to graduate in December of 2021. He has volunteered his time with the Nebraska Football Road Race, a Day of Service and local hospital visits. Jackson was the featured individual in a University of Nebraska video leading a crowd of people down a street, carrying a U.S. flag. Jackson eventually stops in front of an Army veteran, a sheriff, a firefighter, and a paramedic. Jackson takes off his helmet, which has a U.S. flag on it, and salutes the veteran, who salutes him in return.
- https://www.navy.com/faces-fleet-ep-10-walk-on; https://youtu.be/9fqymEBiEks
- Fox News Video: https://video.foxnews.com/v/6270803336001#sp=show-clips
Mike Pereira is the chairman of Battlefields to Ballfields (B2B), a foundation that he founded to “give veterans the resources and opportunity to be sports officials.” With a board of directors comprised of people experienced in business, military service, and officiating, Founded in 2017, B2B provides scholarships to veterans to give them an opportunity to get integrated back into their community through officiating. Endorsed by the National Association of Sports Officials, the B2B has provided more than 400 scholarships for men and women coming out of military service in 47 of the 50 states. Nate Boyer, the first recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award, is on the B2B board. Pereira officiated football for 25 years before entering the NFL where he ran the officiating program for 12 years before becoming a rules analyst for Fox Sports NFL and college football telecasts.
Jordon Simmons is in his fifth season as the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Nevada as he brought a strong military and football background to the Wolf Pack. In 2020, he was named by Jay Norvell as assistant head coach. A native of Redondo Beach, Calif., Simmons came to the Wolf Pack from North Carolina, where he opened a kickboxing gym after a year with the United States 3rd Group Special Forces in Fort Bragg, N.C. In his time with the Special Forces, Simmons worked with wounded warriors and executed team training for groups readying for deployment. One of Norvell’s few original staffers at Nevada, Simmons’ father (Jerry) spent 23 years in the NFL as the head strength and conditioning coach for the Patriots, Browns, Ravens and Panthers.