Football Player Trades Pads in for Flak

After four years of playing offensive tackle on his high school’s football team, he was awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., to play football. Almost two years later, Recruit Bernard D. Lueken, Platoon 3246, Company L, couldn’t continue playing the role of a football player in the spotlight. He had to listen to the voice inside him that urged him to fulfill his desire to become a United States Marine.

When Lueken was a freshman at Chaminade College Preparatory School, Creve Coeur, Miss., he demonstrated a talent for football. Chaminade is a private high school designed for serious students intent on attending college, Lueken said.

“I tried out for the football team as a freshman and was advised by the coach to pursue an athletic career in football,” said Lueken, a St. Louis, Miss., native.

For four years, Lueken held the position of offensive tackle for the Chaminade Red Devils. Lueken’s dedication and loyalty can be attributed to his mother, who lost the battle to breast cancer when he was 14 years old. She had strong character and was one of the first women Marines to graduate from bootcamp after it was designed to replicate men’s training, he said. She served six years in the Corps.

“She would tell me once a Marine, always a Marine,” said 21-year-old Lueken. “She taught me principals, traits and aspects of the Marine Corps like dedication, loyalty and to be good to the people around me. All of this was instilled in me since the moment I opened my eyes and took my first breath.”

His mother gave people the benefit of the doubt because she always saw the good in people, he said.

“She would say, ‘We all make mistakes, but we just want to be better than we were the day before,'” said Lueken.

People often didn’t live up to the standard his mother set for him and his family, he said.

“When I grew up, I realized not everyone was like my family and that Marines are truly a special breed—not everyone was raised by a Marine,” said Lueken.

Because of his mother, Lueken said he had always wanted to be a Marine. But his family constantly told him to go to college and play football.

Consequently, after his mother died, he turned his focus toward athletics and channeled his emotion and energy into sports.

Prior to officially beginning his freshman year at KU, Lueken was labeled as a “true freshman.” This means he did not have to sit out for a year while he prepared his body and mind through training for the intensity of football at a college level.

“I came in physically and mentally ready,” said Lueken. “All new players reported the summer before the season starts because summer is used for training and attending classes as well.”

For one and a half years Lueken played for the Jay Hawks. The intensity and dedication to play college football is similar to the intensity and dedication required for the Marine Corps, he said.

“There were many days we got up at 4 a.m. and would physically train, have film sessions where we studied the opponent, and position meetings, which are like a small unit meetings similar to having fire teams,” said Lueken. “We would also take college classes, have tutors for classes, which were required because we often wouldn’t be finished until 10 p.m.”

But after his freshman year, Lueken realized something: He didn’t want to be a football player.

“I was playing at the highest level and I felt like I was wasting my time,” said Lueken. “My years of youth could be spent for a better cause. I figured you only have your body and health once; I wanted to put it to good use.”

He couldn’t ignore the fact that he was just playing a game, he said.

“The Marine Corps is not a game. It deals with real issues,” said Lueken. “College football is pure entertainment. It’s what people watch to get their minds off real world issues.”

Every Marine he has met had such strong demeanor and a distinct disciplined presence, he said. They walk in a room and its apparent there is something special about them. They dedicate themselves for the betterment of others.

“Lueken understands the core values because he has known them all his life,” said Staff Sgt. Levi K. Fajardo, senior drill instructor, Platoon 3246, Co. L. “He had them in him when he got here. He came with a good foundation and he was well prepared.”

Fajardo also noticed his recruit was very humble and respectful toward others.

“What’s so appealing about the Marine Corps is that it’s a group of people that can get together and strive for a better cause,” said Lueken.

If he could be a Marine, he could help people less fortunate, he said.

“I am a big believer in the ripple effect—you do something and it carries to another person,” said Lueken. “I don’t want to wake up one day and look back and say, ‘I wish I would have.'” It (football) was exciting and fun, but we weren’t helping anyone.”

Fajardo holds three traits very close to his heart: selflessness, passion and leadership by inspiration. Lueken has been a squad leader the entire time he was at bootcamp. Squad leaders manages a quarter of the platoon and ensure their squad is in order and doing what they are supposed to be doing. The squad leaders take orders from the platoon guide, and the platoon guide takes orders from the drill instructors.

“I feel myself evolving and progressing here,” Lueken said. “I am becoming a man, and that’s thrilling. I am excited every day I wake up and realize I am better than what I was yesterday, and closer to becoming a U.S. Marine.”