The Seahawks? Or the Army? A Huge Decision Week on West Point Grad Jon Rhattigan


Four summers ago, Jon Rhattigan surrendered all his civilian clothes, his hair, everything he'd had and been in high school in Illinois — and reported to West Point.

On "R Day," as the United States Military Academy calls it, new cadets from all over the nation and world are sworn into the military by taking an oath of office on The Plain, the expansive field in front of Washington Hall at the center of the West Point campus.

In late June 2017, Rhattigan and his fellow, freshly shorn plebes in the West Point Class of 2021 raised their right hands and repeated their oath from a presiding offer.

"I, Jon Rhattigan, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and bear true allegiance to the national government. That I will support and maintain the sovereignty of the United States," Rhattigan recited on his entrance day into West Point and the United States Army.

Tuesday will help determine how soon Rhattigan resumes fulfilling that oath he took four years ago.

The Seahawks must cut 80 players to 53 by 1 p.m. Tuesday, the NFL deadline to set initial regular-season rosters. Rhattigan, the undrafted rookie from Army, is on the cusp of making the team, or at least Seattle's practice squad.

He's also on the cusp of beginning his career as a second lieutenant, as an infantry officer.

If Rhattigan doesn't get an NFL contract for this season, from Seattle or any other team, the terms of his service deferment from the Department of the Army say he is poised to receive his delayed commission and begin serving as his West Point classmates already are: on active duty in the United States Army.

Rhattigan wants to serve his country. Every cadet does. No one goes to a service academy seeking to avoid serving our nation on active military duty. There are colleges for that. Cadets at West Point and the Air Force Academy and midshipmen at the Naval Academy are volunteering to defend the Constitution, as Rhattigan did by taking that oath in 2017 fresh out of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois.

"Regardless of what happens, I'm going to represent myself, the Academy and the Army the best I can," Rhattigan told The News Tribune.

Saturday night, Rhattigan showed he may best be representing the Army this fall as an NFL player.

After missing most of August with an injury that threatened to end his pro football career before it really started, Rhattigan needed to show coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks something in the final preseason game.

He did.

He shined in his Seahawks debut. He had five tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed, and more noticeable play on special teams, in Seattle's 27-0 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the preseason finale.

"I was fired up about Jon," Carroll said. "This was a guy that did a lot of cool things when he was well and healthy with us, building up. And then he's just had this long muscle thing he had to get through. It just took way longer than we wanted it to.

"Gosh, I thought he played really nice (Saturday). That's the guy that did flash at me, and on special teams as well.

"It was really important for Jon to show us something, and I was really happy for him."

A unique Seahawk

Most, if not all, his Seahawks teammates have no understanding of what's at stake for him this week.

The life of a military academy graduate isn't exactly common NFL locker-room talk.

"For the most part, no," Rhattigan said. "Some might have family members here and there, but certainly it's a football focus out here.

"I certainly talk about it a good bit. A lot of people are interested. It is an interesting path for me to have gotten here, so I like to share some of my experiences.

"It can be applicable, both in football and just leadership, life on and off the field. It's good for to be good at telling what I went through, and how the Army and military life can apply to football.

"Certainly, people are curious about it."

Rhattigan said some of his Seahawks teammates have been "shocked" to learn he got up at 6 a.m. every day for four years, shined his shoes and his brass for uniform and room inspections, attended mandatory classes for physics, calculus, chemistry and engineering, went to summer Army training instead of the beach — while all other college football players prepared for the NFL by...well, being in college.

"At the same time, they expect it to be different. You know, you live a structured life, you live an organized life," he said.

"They are more just interested to hear what it was really like, because they could only have an imagination about it."

Technically, right now the Army considers Rhattigan to be in the Inactive Ready Reserve for three years.

"After my playing career, whenever that may be, I will still require five years of active duty, or service in some capacity," he said.

He doesn't want this week to be the end of his playing career.

Learning curve

Rhattigan said his biggest growth during training camp was not just learning the Seahawks' defense, but how NFL offenses seek to attack it.

At West Point, he practiced every day against Army's triple-option offense. He also played against that in the Black Knights' huge rivalry games against Navy and Air Force.

There are no triple-option offense in the pass-happy NFL. He's been much more a pass-coverage linebacker with the Seahawks.

"The pass-game transition is pretty huge," he said.

Rhattigan has learned in his four months with the Seahawks particularly from All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner that "you can help yourself a lot pre-snap." That is, by recognizing the offense's formation and personnel groups.

Wagner has been an elite teacher at the top of his profession, like a general to this would-be second lieutenant.

"He's a great leader and a great teammate. I'm thankful to be in the room with him," Rhattigan said. "He's a 10-year vet, and he's a guy who's had an amazing career.

"To be able to get bits here and there from Bobby and learn from him, be in the same room as him, is truly a blessing. I'm thankful to have him to look up to and ask questions."

He's not alone

This is an almost out-of-nowhere story. And not just because Rhattigan is trying to become the first West Point graduate to play for the Seahawks.

Rhattigan was a reserve and special-teams player his first three seasons playing for Army. He only became a starter last year, in his senior season.

He excelled. He became a second-team All-American linebacker for Army's Liberty Bowl team that won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for beating Air Force and Navy again.

"I'm anxious to see the chip on his shoulder about this," Carroll said at the beginning of training camp last month, "you know, being from West Point and all that."

Rhattigan is one of four service academy graduates to get deferments of their active-duty assignments to pursue NFL roster spots this summer. The others are Nolan Laufenberg (Denver Broncos) and George Silvanic (Los Angeles Rams) from the Air Force Academy, plus Cameron Kinley (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) from the Naval Academy.

The Buccaneers waived Kinsley Aug. 15, after their first preseason game. He remains unsigned, and could be headed back to the Navy to begin his military career as an ensign.

The Seahawks had a Naval Academy graduate playing for them in 2018, Keenan Reynolds. He was on Seattle's practice squad then played two games that season as a wide receiver.

Reynolds entered the NFL drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. He initially was on a Department of Defense policy similar to the one that's allowed Rhattigan onto the Seahawks: a two-year waiver of his service time. Then the Trump Administration changed that. Lieutenant Junior Grade Reynolds was allowed to play in the NFL while the Navy put him on active-reserve status as a cryptologic warfare officer. He's now out of the NFL, and continuing to serve as a Naval officer.

Regardless of what the Seahawks decide this week, Rhattigan's brothers TJ and Joe in Chicago and his parents Debbie and Thomas who now live in Florida are thrilled that their man has made it this far into the NFL.

And in life.

"They are very proud. They are very happy for me," Rhattigan said. "They know this is something I've been chasing since I was a little boy.

"For reality to hit, and I'm a Seattle Seahawk right now, it's a great feeling for all of us. Myself and my family, as well."