FORT KNOX, Ky. -- The first of 25 finalists for the Army-sponsored 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence Program was announced March 21 at Lakeland High School in White Lake, Michigan.
Now in its 5th year, the program helps U.S. Army Recruiting Command and U.S. Army Cadet Command reach out to schools throughout the country by recognizing sophomores, juniors and seniors who excel in sports, academics and community service.
Now through June, all finalists will receive their awards from a Pro Football Hall of Fame player during a formal presentation at their school. In addition, a senior leader from either USAREC or USACC will speak on behalf of the Army at each event, and recruiters can collect lead cards from students interested in military service.
At Lakeland High School, Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Minnesota Vikings player John Randle presented Sean Cullen, a junior, with a plaque and a custom jacket.
Cullen has a 4.0 GPA; plays basketball, football and baseball; and runs track. He helped Holiday Hope for Kids, which purchases gifts for special needs children during the holidays, raise $6,500 by planning and organizing fundraising events, and he volunteered his time reading to special needs elementary students.
In the event's keynote speech, Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Charles Cogger said Soldiers, professional football players and high school athletes know the importance of adaptability and versatility of teamwork, whether they're defending their end zone or defending their country.
"The student-athletes we celebrate through the U.S. Army and Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence are all integral members of a team," Cogger said. "Like every Army Soldier and, certainly, a Hall of Famer, they understand the importance of every team member in accomplishing the mission, and that victory is only achieved when everyone does their job and does it well.
"Anyone can celebrate being the best athletically, but when the U.S. Army and Pro Football Hall of Fame - two organizations that are founded on strong values - developed this program together, we wanted to celebrate those who strive to be not just great athletes, but outstanding people."
Cogger also presented awards to the school principal and guidance counselor who nominated Cullen.
This program helps build awareness about the Army among students and educators, according to the battalion's public affairs specialist, Ken Jacobs.
"Hopefully, coming to the school with a football Hall of Famer is going to open up some doors for the recruiters at that high school," Jacobs said. "Recruiters have informed me they have a pretty good relationship with this school already, but they want to get a visit once a month."
Sixty-five students submitted packets, and a Pro Football Hall of Fame board selected the finalists. The finalists will attend the Hall of Fame football game in Canton, Ohio, Aug. 5, followed by the Awards for Excellence Luncheon, where the winner will be announced.