ANDERSON — “Hi, everybody, I’m Josh. I’ve been away for the last two years in the Army.”
Those are the first words Josh McNary said he spoke to his Indianapolis Colts teammates after arriving late Monday night. As training camp introductions go, it must have stood out.
Of course, no other player arrived at Anderson University this summer after spending much of the past two years firing a 155-millimeter cannon for a living. McNary was an Army lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
His official title was fire direction officer, and he admits the job was fun. It also kept him in shape, though not perhaps the kind of shape that works in the NFL.
“I wasn’t football-ready for two years completely,” McNary said. “I was in Army shape, which is a lot of long-distance running, endurance, stuff like that. I converted over to short-twitch, quick movements early this year.”
To say McNary’s path to professional football was unconventional is a bit of an understatement.
He wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, drawing offers only from lower-division schools, and had made up his mind to attend the University of Houston and put football behind him.
His family has a strong military history — his father is a retired captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, his paternal grandfather served in the Korean War and his maternal grandfather served in World War II — so when he received his appointment to West Point, McNary decided to follow that path instead.
And it eventually led him back to the gridiron. He walked on to play for the Black Knights and left Army’s program as the career leader in sacks.
Along the way, he caught the eyes of the NFL.
National accolades came his way after his junior season, but a career in football still felt like a longshot.
“Scouts even started showing up my senior year,” McNary said. “That’s when it kind of sunk in, but I had the two-year (military) in front of my mind. I had that to meet head first.”
Because of that commitment, McNary was ineligible for the draft in 2011.
With his release scheduled for this summer, however, he put out the word early in the year that he’d like to make a run at the NFL.
The Colts offered a chance to make the team, and McNary was impressed with head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. But he also liked that the duo had a clear plan for where he fit into their defense, and he chose to sign with Indianapolis.
The team was hoping to have him on hand for mini-camp in June, but it took awhile longer to complete his military service. He arrived Monday night and hit the practice field in full pads Tuesday afternoon.
“Last night was the first time we really got with him,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “Knowledgeable guy that understands football, and we’ll see what he can do these next couple of weeks.”
McNary was a defensive end in college, but he said he’s not being used as the Colts’ “rush” linebacker yet. Instead, he lined up for his first practice inside at the “Mike” linebacker position.
After two years away from the game, he likely faces long odds to make the 53-man active roster. But he’s beaten longer odds before, and there’s always the eight-man practice squad as a fallback option.
Not that McNary would ever be interested in settling for a consolation prize.
“I was never the favorite to be here or anything like that,” he said. “I pretty much walked on the team at West Point and kind of took the world by surprise. It means a lot (to be in an NFL training camp), but in no way am I satisfied just yet. I’d like to go and see what I can do at this level.”