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thedrifter
01-17-07, 08:02 AM
Jan. 17, 2007, 3:28AM
EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME
Time to move on, but not to NFL
Navy's Tidwell plays final game before beginning military service

By MEGAN MANFULL
Houston Chronicle

When Navy linebacker Tyler Tidwell stepped on the practice field at Reliant Park, he was sure someone was going to mistake him for a kicker. It didn't help when he caught a glimpse of a teammate with biceps roughly as thick as Tidwell's waist.

Tidwell, 6-2 and 224 pounds, quickly realized size was just one of the glaring differences between him and the majority of other players in the East-West Shrine Game.

"This has been a complete shock to me," said Tidwell, one of three players from military academies in Saturday's game. "I have guys coming up to me asking, 'What training facility are you at? Who's your agent? What teams are you looking at?' I tell them I already signed to go pro with the Marine Corps. That's my agent right there."

Tidwell has been met by blank stares. The other players can't grasp that he hasn't been training solely for this opportunity, where NFL scouts, coaches and general managers fill the sidelines of each practice.

Tidwell's training each week has consisted of a Naval Weapons Systems course — one of his final obligations before his graduation in May. He will then pack for Quantico, Va., where he will begin training to become a Marine Corps infantry officer.

"It never crossed my mind to do the things they are doing, and at the same time it seems unbelievable to them what I'm doing," Tidwell said. "We're in two completely different worlds."

Tidwell has a five-year active duty commitment to the Navy after his graduation. It's similar to the commitments of Army defensive lineman Craig Cameron and Air Force offensive tackle Robert Kraay.

"I'm not going to say I look forward to going to war, but I will do it," Cameron said. "It gives me great pride to go out and be selfless so other people can have their freedom."

Each commitment is somewhat flexible if a player is drafted in the NFL, but Tidwell doesn't expect any exceptions will need to be made for him. He plans to spend six to nine months training in Quantico and then be deployed to the Middle East.

"When you're a young junior officer, the best way to learn is by doing, so they like to get you out there as quickly as possible," Tidwell said.

It's a difficult path for his mother, Linda, to accept. She always hoped Tyler would stay home and attend Oklahoma Christian College in their hometown of Edmond, Okla.

His ties to the military are strong, though. Tyler's grandfathers served in the Navy, and his father, Bobby, was part of the Marine Corps infantry during Vietnam.

"I would bring him home in a heartbeat if it was up to me," Linda said. "I would never have let him go if it was up to me. But as a mother, I think that's pretty normal. I don't think any mothers want their children to move far away or do anything that's going to be dangerous at all. It's been hard to accept that that's what he's wanted to do."

But for one more weekend Tidwell will be a football player. His family will arrive Friday to celebrate the ending of a successful collegiate career in which Tidwell finished with 16 sacks and 30 tackles for loss.

"Football was a little bit of an escape from the military world sometimes," Tidwell said. "When you're a freshman at Navy, everyone is in charge of you, and you really have no say over anything. It's 'yes, sir' or 'no, sir.' But then you go to football, and there's no class on the team. We're all just football players. Football ended up providing a support system that was invaluable, especially when I was younger."

megan.manfull@chron.com

Ellie