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Football and Army. They’ve been Michael Hagerty’s life as long as he can remember.
An Army brat from a family of nine, Hagerty lived at 12 different installations before high school. Moving frequently, Hagerty was always searching for opportunities to make friends.
“I was a big dude, and I just wanted to be a part of something,” Hagerty said.
At age eight, he found his answer in football. The game fueled his competitive drive.
“When you see someone that does something better than you, you want to learn from them, you want to get better at it, you want to compete with them and eventually get better at it than they are,” Hagerty said.
Thirteen years later, Hagerty’s at the end of his football career. He’s got a championship ring from the University of Georgia secured, and he’s ready to focus on a different team – the United States Army.
In just a few days, Hagerty arrives to Fort Knox, Ky., for Cadet Summer Training (CST). His performance at Knox plays a large role in his future as an officer when he commissions in the Spring of 2023.
Sports–especially football–were a way to push Hagerty out of his comfort zone.
“He was a very introverted kid who liked to read, and football was his way to connect with other people,” said Hagerty’s father, Col. Michael Hagerty.
“What he found pretty early on is when you move in the Army every year, by joining a football team you make 90 friends before school ever starts,” Col. Hagerty, an Army ROTC Alumnus from Appalachian State, added.
As his passion for the game grew, so did Hagerty. Between his 8th and 9th grade year, Hagerty went from being 6 feet to 6 feet, 3 inches tall, literally towering over his peers. When he stepped on to the football field at Bradwell Institute in Hinesville, Ga., people noticed.
“I had no aspirations of playing in college until I got to my sophomore year of high school,” Hagerty said. “A lot of the dudes on my team were starting to get looked at by colleges because we had a lot of talent. That was something I realized I could do, and it sounded like fun.”
Despite his ability and several offers from colleges, Hagerty wasn’t getting the looks he wanted from bigger schools.
He was in a recruiting pool with some of the best athletes in the country.
“Michael wasn’t a standout athlete. He didn’t have the best hands, he wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t the biggest, but what we saw over the years is the more interested he got in football the more he started to go after it and improve himself to be a better player,” Col. Hagerty said.
“Nothing came natural to Michael,” he adds. “He was not born with speed; he was not born with strength. All of that came with hard work and persistence in the gym. That’s what Michael has —that discipline.”
Even with an uncertain football future looming in his college years, Hagerty was confident about one thing: He was going to join the Army.
“I’m like anybody else who’s grown up on these military bases. Everybody you know wears uniforms, everybody’s dad was in the Army growing up…and you realize that you’re just surrounded by these heroes, and you become kind of ambitious to join them,” Hagerty said.
Hagerty’s desire to belong wasn’t the only thing pushing him to pursue Army ROTC, he also craves independence and financial stability.
“I was very, and still am, set on not taking money from my parents for college and putting myself through college and using scholarships to pay the way,” Hagerty said. “The idea of being independent was always very attractive to me so I could handle myself as an adult and enter adulthood a little earlier.”
Col. Hagerty said his son always projected independence, the drive to pay for college was a way to create his own path.
“There were some things that he wanted to do [in college], that with our money came that opinion or that oversight,” Col. Hagerty said. “I think he wanted the independence and to prove that he could do it on his own.”
With one foot already in ROTC, Hagerty faced a deadline on his future football career.
“I had kind of given up on football at that point,” Hagerty said.
His high school coach suggested he walk on to the University of Georgia’s football team.
Once UGA entered the conversation, Hagerty’s competitive nature kicked in. A perennial powerhouse, the Bulldogs regularly select 5-star recruits – something Hagerty is not.
The margin for failure was substantial.
“Those guys are the best in the world,” Hagerty said, recalling the conversation with his coach.
“And [my coach] said, ‘Yeah, so just go walk on.’”
His freshman year, Hagerty joined Army ROTC, a fraternity, and took a full course load. He also focused on preparing for spring tryouts with the UGA football team.
“Every morning I had to get up and work out to get better so I could walk on,” he said.
In February of 2020, he was selected to be part of UGA’s football team.
But it wasn’t like playing in high school.
Even at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, as a walk-on tight end, Hagerty didn’t get much playing time. His job was to help the team get better.
“The talent gap is so ridiculously large. Everybody is faster and stronger,” Hagerty said. “It’s just incredible to watch. You see a lot of walk-ons get disheartened to the point where they lose that drive, but you’ve just got to learn to love the little things about it.”
Once again part of a team, Hagerty worked hard and found himself on the sidelines during the 2021 College Football National Championship game versus Alabama.
Spoiler: Georgia won.
“We had the most elite talent of any football team,” Hagerty said. “We had 15 people picked up in the draft – that’s most of our team.”
Once the season was finished and a championship ring on his finger, Hagerty began to shift his focus.
“After we won the national championship, I knew I needed to take ROTC more seriously and dedicate more time to it,” Hagerty said.
Hagerty recognized a career in the NFL was not in his future, making the transition to full-time Army ROTC Cadet seem effortless.
With a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs already complete, Hagerty’s ambitions center on attending CST this summer, graduating with his master’s in Public Administration, and commissioning as an officer next spring.
“He’s walking away from one team – a national championship football team – and he’s joining another great team,” said Col. Hagerty. “Michael is physically just a beast and an incredible athlete, but I think his most admirable quality and the thing that’s going to make him a great leader in the Army is grit.”
Hagerty strives to be the best in everything he does. If you tell Hagerty he can’t do something, chances are he’s going to figure out a way to do it.
“If he wants something, he wants to know how to be better at that and not just meet the standard. He wants to exceed the standard because that’s just who he is,” said Master Sgt. Russ Shields, a Military Science Instructor at the University of Georgia.
True to his character, Hagerty’s competitive nature has him refining the physical and tactical skills he’s been taught to succeed at CST.
“I see him being someone Cadets look to emulate and look to for guidance since he remembers things and is capable of, not just regurgitating information, but also applying them in a practical sense,” Shields said.
Always a team player, Hagerty looks forward to the struggles and triumphs.
“I enjoy seeing other people get better,” he said. “If I can bring what I know and help somebody out, whether its motivation or knowledge, then I am excited to help other people succeed.”
About Army ROTC
Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.
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