Released by: USACC Public Affairs Office, Rachael Tolliver
Belmonte, a record-setting kicker for the Wildcats’ football team, was also an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet. A December 2012 honors graduate, he was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant on January 5 in San Antonio, Texas, before the kickoff of the 13th annual U.S. Army All American Bowl high school all star football game.
One goal down.
Now, Second Lt. Rockne Belmonte has the opportunity for his childhood dream, his second goal, to become reality. He will participate in several National Football League (NFL) combines in the coming months where he will be given the chance to play professionally.
“I have received some interest at the IFL (Indoor Football League) and AFL (Arena Football League) levels,” Belmonte said. “But everyone I have met so far says I have a serious shot, and I have a big leg to get me there.”
Belmonte intends to pursue both Army service and a professional football career.
“My plan is to do everything I can to take my shot at the NFL while still fulfilling my service to the Army. I was assessed as active Army, although I am hoping to get a job playing football and switch to the (Army Reserve) so I can continue to participate in the two passions I have,” he said.
Belmonte was one of a number of outstanding cadets and soldiers selected to attend the Army All-American Bowl to interact with and mentor the players, and speak to community leaders, educators, players and family members about his experience in ROTC and the opportunities available in the program.
Belmonte did not start his college football career at Northern Michigan -- he played at Eastern Michigan for one season. He said he enrolled in ROTC while there because he needed to be part of a team after the season ended, and he said he always wanted to serve his country.
“I was attracted by being able to have the opportunity to be a leader in the U.S. Army,” Belmonte said.
He was awarded a four-year Army ROTC scholarship, and majored in physical education coaching — a major he said he chose because he didn’t want to ever leave the “great game of football — it teaches you more about life than any classroom can.”
His professor of military science at Northern Michigan, Lt. Col. Kyle Rambo, said athletes like Belmonte epitomizes what he is looking for in a cadet.
“(He is) intelligent, athletic, and honest,” Rambo said. “He was one of our hardest working cadets who always applied every minute of his day to improving himself as a student, athlete or leader.
“NCAA athletes perform extremely well as cadets because they come fully equipped with several attributes that are some of the hardest to teach. They are dedicated, extremely competitive, team-oriented and perform well under enormous pressure.”
Rambo also said ROTC reinforces all of those qualities while instilling Army values and developing leadership skills. It is for those reasons he continues to reach out to other athletes on campus to join ROTC.
“I now have three NCAA athletes who are contracted cadets in my program,” he said.
And from participation in ROTC, Belmonte said he has learned much that will put him ahead of his peers.
“(One of the things) is the ability to lead from the front and think on my feet. In football there is always an expression …that is, being able to respond to adversity,” he said. “There is no better training to be able to respond and overcome adversity than in the Army.
“When I first got up to (college), Coach Randy Awrey and the current professor of military science met with my parents and myself over dinner,” he added.” We had a talk about time management and where I was to be, depending on the time of the year. It made me master my time management skills. I am always on the run, but it makes me better at football and ROTC, because I could not be as successful in one without the other.”
He added that ROTC creates officers of character by demanding a cadet’s very best. He said he learned it isn’t acceptable to disrespect yourself, and by doing so, disrespecting the program. ROTC holds cadets accountable for everything they do or fail to do. Belmonte said this is important because people cannot be successful as leaders if they are leaders without character.
“Also, it has given me the abilities necessary to be a leader on the football team from a position of kicker — normally thought of as being weaker or lesser (in terms of leadership),” he said.
The record-setting kicker said that professionalism is something else he learned. He said he has always competed in sports but had always “had a sense of cocky confidence.” But his ROTC classes allowed him to grow that confidence and allow it to mature so he is professional about it.
As much as he has progressed in ROTC, Belmonte has also progressed in football — starting with his favorite college moments. He said one of those moments was helping NMU beat a team they had not beaten in a long while by kicking a NMU record 58-yard field goal.
To continue his drive toward fulfilling his football dream, he is spending January kicking on an arena football field and focusing on strength training so he can build leg speed and refine his technique.
Belmonte is the son of Bob and Pamela Belmonte of Grand Rapids, Mich. He said his father, a Notre Dame alumnus, named his son after the legendary Irish football coach. Born on St. Patrick’s Day, Belmonte is a 2007 graduate of Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School. His plans are to fly to Scottsdale, Ariz., later this month for some additional practice and later to Las Vegas for the AFL tryouts. He’ll then go to Los Angeles for the NFL.
Without the support of his family, Belmonte said he wouldn’t be where he is now, and without the support of the NMU football and ROTC staffs he wouldn’t have been able to pursue both his dreams.
Whether he plays football in the NFL while being an Army Reservist, or is a full time active duty Army officer, Belmonte has much to teach those whom he leads.
“I am working hard toward both my goals,” he said. “My dream shot would be to do both.”