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SU legend Little reflects on military background, nearly choosing West Point

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FORT DRUM — Before he became a star running back as a member of the Orange, Floyd Little was sure that he was going to attend the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.

Despite receiving 47 offers to play college football, including ones from Notre Dame and Syracuse, his heart was with the academy: Little had graduated from a military high school in New Jersey, and had a large admiration for Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The academy in its recruiting pitch for Little had set up an introduction between the two, along with several members of the New York Yankees organization.

Standing at attention, he was astounded when told by the general he could stand at ease.

“I was like, ‘You have got to be s—- me,’” Little said.

Gen. MacArthur even told Little that if he had a chance to go to the Academy, he could become the first African-American General in the United States Army.

The decision was everything but finalized when he returned home to New Haven, Conn., when he was met by a group from Syracuse University officials including coach Ben Schwartzwalder and running back Ernie Davis, the first African-American player to win the Heisman Trophy.

Taking Little to dinner at a restaurant near the neighboring Yale campus, Davis would pull the recruit aside, giving him a pitch of more than 35 minutes in the restaurant’s bathroom.

While he was not fully sold on the program, he was worried that the order of lobster and steak was getting cold.

“OK Ernie...I’m convinced,” Little said he told Davis. “I’m going to Syracuse.”

While he had admittedly not fully told the truth at the time, Little would acknowledge the commitment he had made to Davis when the running back died only three months after their meeting.

“There’s nothing more valuable than my word,” Little said. “Once I give you that, you can take it to the bank.”

The rest is history. Little would become a three-time All-American while at Syracuse, before joining the Denver Broncos in 1967. Playing nine seasons in the AFL and NFL, he would be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Staring out at the practicing football players of Syracuse University, Little said he hoped the practices in the military environment would help the players develop a positive attitude and improved leadership skills.

“These are the things they don’t get exposed to,” Little said. “These are the things that will make them better.”

Little, now a special assistant to the athletic directors, appeared to not have lost much of a step decades after his college playing days.

Introducing Little to media earlier in the afternoon, Gen. Milley said the 70-year-old’s 40-yard dash time was a lean 4.9 seconds, just off of his peak time of 4.3 seconds he ran as a pro.

“He’s working on 4.7,” Gen. Milley said.

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