Toughest test passed

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2005 at 1:13 a.m.
INDIANAPOLIS - When Robert McCune hears football players talk about going to war, he just shakes his head. Three years of Army service taught him that football is a game, war a battle for survival.
McCune lived on military bases in five states and was deployed to South Korea and Kuwait. He's heard the crackle of nearby gunfire and camped on a roof during a monsoon. He spent days refueling military vehicles and free moments lifting a 50-pound rock.
McCune endured it all so he could keep playing football. His Army buddies found that funny.
``I told them that after this I was going to go to college and get my degree, I was going to play football, and they laughed,'' he said.
Now the linebacker might be close to playing in the NFL. McCune, among the 332 players invited to this year's combine, will be 26 by the time of the April draft, and he might be the oldest player selected.
``If the guy is a real good football player, you don't worry about it,'' Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. ``If he's in the development stage, it becomes a concern.''
McCune wasn't even offered a Division I-A scholarship when he graduated from LeFlore High School in Mobile, Ala. He earned a spot on the Louisville team as a walk-on and finished with 320 career tackles. Some scouts wonder if the 6-foot, 245-pound McCune is big enough to play inside linebacker, but no one has questioned his commitment or work ethic.
``You assume he has a character that's very high, and that's very important to all of us,'' Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. ``People who not only can avoid off-field problems, but who can be productive like that are very valuable.''
McCune finished 2003 with a team-high 143 tackles, including four sacks. This past December, McCune completed his military service with the rank of corporal in time to start preparing for the NFL combine. He also earned a degree in education.
McCune will spend the next two months preparing for football, watching the news and getting updates from friends never far from his mind. But you'll never hear McCune making comparisons between the game he loves and the battles he's fought.
``In war, you have real, live bullets flying around,'' he said. ``My buddies, they have a saying: `Stay alert, stay alive,' and one of my friends said it's true. I talk to them all the time, and they tell me they hope I make it. I tell them `I hope I make it, too.' ''

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