Five-a-Side: Bucknell's A.J. Pompliano
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Having suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL tear during the preseason, Bucknell wide receiver A.J. Pompliano won't be scoring any important touchdowns this season.
He still deserves a standing ovation or two, however.
Pompliano is back at Bucknell after serving the National Guard in Iraq. He was a 20-year-old junior in September 2008 when five days after the Bison's season opener he learned of his impending deployment. He spent the next 13 months on tour as a specialist in route clearance missions.
He turned 21 while in Iraq and remained there until October 2009.
The 22-year-old from Cary, N.C., has played wide receiver, quarterback and running back for Bucknell and was set to return to being a wide receiver this season. In August, however, he was injured on a downfield block during the Patriot League team's first practice in full pads.
Pompliano has a double major in economics and sociology, and will graduate in May. He says he might return next year to try to finish his playing career while taking graduate classes.
"He was on a Humvee with a 50-caliber in his hand. And that gives a great deal of life experience," Bucknell football coach Joe Susan said.
"It puts things in perspective as to what exactly is important. When he salutes the flag, he really means it."
In Five-a-Side - In the Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Pompliano discusses his experiences in Iraq and back at Bucknell.
Let's kick off:
TSN: What were some of your duties during your tour?
AP: What we did over there is called route clearance. Basically we did it at nighttime. Our main mission was if a unit had to leave the base for whatever reason, they would send us out about two hours before and we would clear the route, looking for IEDs on the side of the road - they're roadside bombs - or try to clear the route of ambushes. (We were) just looking for anything that possibly could be a threat to them. Drive real slow, leave all our lights on, so when they leave they're flying - they're going as fast as they can, no lights on. We're just basically making their job easier.
TSN: Were you exposed directly to an exchange of fire or death?
AP: Right when we first got there, we got hit pretty hard one day and one of the soldiers died. I told a story to somebody and I kind of explained it that that really just opened my eyes. Unfortunately, it kind of focused everyone in. We knew it was serious, we knew that, 'Hey, look, we're going to war.' But until that first one happens, you don't really understand how serious it is, especially with someone dying. It completely changed our mindset. We had a couple guys get injured the rest of the tour, but no one else died. We kind of look at that as one of the reasons why. It was a lot different going from sitting in a classroom to having bombs go off."
TSN: How have you or your feelings changed since before you went on your tour?
AP: I think before I left, I was just a normal 20-year-old kid. I was in college, I was playing college football. I didn't really think too much of it. I just thought, 'Hey, this is how everyone lives' and sort of went about my day. But since I've been back, I really do cherish every moment, all of it, from going to class every day to going out to play football, weightlifting, everything. I think that one of my main goals is to get that to rub off on the guys on the team. I think someone will think I'm a little crazy sometimes, always yelling and screaming and telling them I'm having fun. I think they understand."
TSN: How have you been able to contribute to this year's team despite your season-ending injury?
AP: When I got injured, I didn't really know what my spot was going to be. Obviously, I'm very upset about it. But I've kind of taken on more of an emotional leader role. I'm just trying to kind of mentor the younger guys. I think a lot of the guys respect what I've been through and they understand I've been here a while both at Bucknell and playing college football. They kind of look to me for advice sometimes. I do the best that I can to help them out with that.
TSN: What are your plans for the future?
AP: Really, I kind of have two different two routes I could take. I've thought about re-enlisting in the military and continuing that for a couple years. Or I have a couple relatives who are federal law enforcement (and I have considered) either going to law school or just going straight to one of the agencies. It's kind of the two routes that I'm looking at."
10/01 11:18:15 ET