SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 2, 2013) -- It started with soccer. But when his brother broke a football scoreboard at a field goal tryout, the brothers switched sports and never looked back.
And now Rockne Belmonte, a record-setting kicker for Northern Michigan University and an Army ROTC Cadet, has the opportunity for his childhood dream to become reality. He will participate in several National Football League combines in the coming months where he will be given the chance to play professionally.
"I have (received) some interest at the IFL (Indoor Football League) and AFL (Arena Football League) levels," Belmonte said. "But everyone I have met so far says I (have) a serious shot, and I have a big leg to get me there."
But he has two dreams, and if he has his way, he will pursue both.
"I graduated with honors (in December) from NMU, but my plan is to do everything I can to take my shot at the NFL while still fulfilling my service to the Army," Belmonte said. "I was assessed as active (Army), although I am hoping to get a job playing football and switch to the (Army Reserve) so I can continue to participate in the two passions I have."
Belmonte is attending the Army All-American Bowl this week in San Antonio, where he will speak to community leaders, players and family members about his experience in ROTC and opportunities available in the program. And before kickoff of Saturday's game, he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Belmonte did not start his college football career at NMU, playing first at Eastern Michigan for one season. He said he enrolled in ROTC while there because he needed to be part of a team after the season ended, and he said he always wanted to serve his country.
"I was attracted by being able to have the opportunity to be a leader in the U.S. Army," Belmonte said.
He was awarded a four-year scholarship to pursue a degree in physical education coaching -- a major he said he chose because he didn't want to ever leave the "great game of football -- it teaches you more about life than any classroom can."
His professor of military science, Lt. Col. Kyle Rambo, said athletes like Belmonte epitomizes what he is looking for in a Cadet.
"(He is) intelligent, athletic, and honest," Rambo said. "He was one of our hardest working Cadets who always applied every minute of his day to improving himself as a student, athlete or leader.
"NCAA athletes perform extremely well as Cadets because they come fully equipped with several attributes that are some of the hardest to teach," Rambo continued. "They are dedicated, extremely competitive, team-oriented and perform well under enormous pressure."
Rambo also said ROTC reinforces all of those qualities while instilling Army values and developing leadership skills. It is for those reasons he continues to reach out to other athletes on campus to join ROTC.
"I now have three NCAA athletes who are contracted Cadets in my program," he said.
And from participation in ROTC, Belmonte said he has learned much that will put him ahead of his peers.
"(One of the things) is the ability to lead from the front and think on my feet. In football there is always an expression that is, being able to respond to adversity," Belmonte said. "There is no better training to be able to respond and overcome adversity than in the Army.
"When I first got up to (college), Coach Randy Awrey and the current professor of military science met with my parents and myself over dinner," he added." We had a talk about time management and where I was to be, depending on the time of the year. It made me master my time management skills. I am always on the run, but it makes me better at football and ROTC, because I could not be as successful in one without the other."
He added that ROTC creates officers of character by demanding a Cadet's very best. He said he learned it isn't acceptable to disrespect yourself, and by doing so, disrespecting the program. ROTC holds Cadets accountable for everything Cadets do or fail to do. Belmonte said this is important because people cannot be successful as leaders if they are a leader without character.
"Also, it has given me the abilities necessary to be a leader on the football team from a position of kicker -- normally thought of as being weaker or lesser (in terms of leadership)," he said.
The record-setting kicker said that professionalism is something else he learned. He said he has always competed in sports but had always "had a sense of cocky confidence." But his ROTC classes allowed him to grow that confidence and allow it to mature so he is professional about it.
As much as he has progressed in ROTC, Belmonte has also progressed in football -- starting with his favorite college moments. He said one of those moments was helping NMU beat a team they had not beaten in a long while by kicking a NMU record 58-yard field goal.
To continue his drive toward fulfilling his football dream, he will spend January kicking on an arena football field and focusing on strength training so he can build leg speed and refine his technique.
Belmonte, who's father graduated from Notre Dame and named his son after the legendary Knut Rockne, said he would fly to Scottsdale, Ariz., later this month for some additional practice and later to Las Vegas for the AFL tryouts. He'll then go to Los Angeles for the NFL.
Without the support of his family, Belmonte said he wouldn't be where he is now, and without the support of the NMU football and ROTC staffs he wouldn't have been able to pursue both his dreams.
Whether he plays football in the NFL while being an Army Reservist, or is a full time active-duty Soldier, Belmonte has much to teach those whom he leads.
"I am working hard toward both my goals," he said. "My dream shot would be to do both."
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