SAN ANTONIO – Weston Steelhammer met President Donald Trump this past spring to accept the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. This fall, he assisted with the logistics to put the president’s plane into Puerto Rico after a hurricane.
This path that has quickly traveled full circle wasn't what Steelhammer envisioned when military rules briefly opened a direct path to pro sports for service academy graduates prior to his senior year at Air Force.
After setting the program record with 18 career interceptions, the All-American and three-time all-Mountain West first-team selection received an invitation to play in front of scouts at the East-West Shrine Game and hired an agent in advance of the NFL draft. But then the Department of Defense abruptly changed course and determined that two years of active-duty service would again be required for grads before pursuing professional sports. Steelhammer still spent a weekend with the Philadelphia Eagles in rookie minicamp, earning positive feedback, but that’s where his dabble into pro football stopped.
That pursuit forced Steelhammer to give up a coaching spot as a graduate assistant for the Falcons, which was to be his first military assignment. He instead became a logistics officer and was sent to Joint Base San Antonio in the hometown of his youth, where the warm weather suits his southern background and he’s finding his work rewarding (hurricane relief) and challenging (“you can’t quit learning”).
On Thursday, Steelhammer strolled into a trendy, fast casual taco shop for a conversation with The Gazette’s Brent Briggeman looking like a walking recruiting poster for the Air Force in his military uniform and ever-present smile.
This is how he envisioned life when he signed up for the academy, before the military briefly allowed the NFL to dangle a carrot of opportunity. And he’s more than adjusted back to this reality.
“I’m definitely excited to see what the future holds,” Steelhammer said. “Life is good for a 22-year-old second lieutenant.”
Brent Briggeman: As a logistics officer, in a normal day what kind of things are coming across your desk in a typical day?
Weston Steelhammer: Obviously fighting a different battle than most being at a joint base. Things run a little bit different and it’s a pretty unique opportunity, getting to handle things on a lot bigger scale and getting to do things that most second lieutenants wouldn’t get to do. That’s sitting in on meetings with colonels and doing assignments and tasks that are tacked to a lot higher pay grade than you are. But in terms of logistics, it’s a very overarching career field, which is nice. Things don’t get too monotonous because something different is thrown at you every day. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’m doing so far. With the hurricanes hitting back to back to back, we’ve definitely been a focal point of that relief operation. Quite a bit of that has come out of the port of San Antonio through our logistics squadron. To be able to see that kind of impact from start-to-finish has been pretty cool.
You say it’s above your pay grade, are there days you are overwhelmed by it?
Absolutely, but as a second lieutenant you can’t quit learning. You never know enough. That’s my job is to just learn and obviously trying to take it all in. I’m used to it from being a freshman once on the classroom and a freshman once on the field. Things have come at me from a fire hose once before.
What’s the biggest logistical nightmare you’ve had to untangle?
Obviously the hurricane support was a nightmare in itself. No one can plan for a disaster like that to happen. A logistician likes to have a plan, and there definitely isn’t one for a hurricane. But the way were able to come together and execute something to that magnitude and being direct support with getting the president on the ground in Puerto Rico, it was pretty cool in your first month on the job.
You had a hand in that?
We had some coordination with that with all of our planes heading to Puerto Rico and him heading to Puerto Rico. Being in that room of communication was pretty cool.
You’ve mentioned you still have the coaching bug, do you want to get back into that?
I can’t see my life without football, so that’s kind of where it is at this point. I would love to try to play. I would love to try to coach in some form or fashion. I obviously have a love for the game. I’m going to be starting my master’s here in the new year, and that obviously opens some doors in that aspect. Air Force has been good to me over the last four years and up to this point. At this age, options are a good thing to have.
In terms of playing football, where do things stand? Are you saving leave time in case you need to take time this coming spring and summer?
Absolutely. I still have the same support system with my agent. I’ve been in contact with all the guys at school, the coaches and strength staff and the things like that just to continue to pave the way for me in case that door remains open in two years. We’ll see as the calendar changes and camps start up next year and the year after.
When you went to camp with the Eagles, was there anything you saw and learned to make you think a career in football wouldn’t be a possibility? Or did it just fuel the fire?
A little bit of both. It was a great experience. I felt like that weekend was good all in all. The experience was great and having that confidence and allowing others to have that confidence in you and getting to actually see you on the field. That was awesome. Being a couple years removed, the players are going to change, the front offices are going to change and I’ll change as an individual. A lot of variables go into it, but it’s a great experience and I’m excited to see what comes out of it.
The rules for the pro policy changed so quickly around draft time. How did word first reach you?
Probably the same way it got to everyone. It was unfortunate, but, like I said, everything happens for a reason. If the opportunity is there, I don’t see why there’s any reason for us to not be able to pursue this opportunity when the time comes. You’ve either got it or you don’t. The handful of us that got an opportunity earlier this summer got an opportunity for a reason. If that door remains open, I don’t see why any of us couldn’t walk through it.
Was there any bitterness that the handful of you went through the training you did for a few months thinking a pro football career was an immediate option, only to have it taken away like that at the last moment?
Bitterness isn’t the right word, but everyone achieves different things through different routes. Obviously our route is going to have to be different than most. That’s OK. We’ve done things different for the last four years. We’re used to being different. We are different. That’s just a testament to the kind of guys we are, the families we’ve had, the coaches and teachers we’ve had to get us to where we are today.
You mentioned you wish you could pursue the NFL. If given the opportunity, would you agree to defer your time and serve it on the back end? That’s the piece I don’t understand is why the handful of athletes who might find themselves in this unique situation have to serve immediately instead of capitalizing on what might be a brief window of opportunity for themselves and, from a marketing standpoint, for the military.
That decision is obviously above my pay grade. I’m enjoying what I’m doing now. We obviously went to the academy with the mindset of serving our country. Whether getting to do that now or later, it’s an honor. I've seen that over the short months I've been on active duty. If I have an opportunity to represent the Air Force not in an airman’s uniform but a football uniform, I’d love to do that as well. Whatever I can do to repay the Air Force for where it’s gotten me, I’d like to do that.
If you go into coaching, who on Air Force’s staff would you most emulate in your style?
Got to go with coach (Steve) Russ. I may or may not be as intense as him, but I think the bond that we’ve had over the last four years has been pretty incredible. The way we’ve been able to work together, the way he’s been able to shape and mold me in to the player and the man that I am today; I’m forever grateful for that. Not to count out the other coaches. Each one of them has been able to touch my life on and off the field. I wouldn’t have rather played for a different coaching staff in college football than I did. I’d definitely be OK coaching with or coaching like any of them.
Did you leave the academy with any regrets? As a baseball player, do you wish you had tried to play? Or are there any other doors you wish you’d opened?
I would have given someone a different answer four years ago if I they’d asked if I was happy with my decision. That tough freshman year gets your mind thinking a lot of different things. But being four years removed and being done, I’d definitely do it the same. I miss baseball, but just trying to think of trying to juggle football and baseball and the academy – I don’t have a formula for that. So, I’m definitely happy with how things played out and I’m excited for what the future holds.