Redbird football player strikes balance between athletics, academics, and ROTC
Redbird football player Paul Monaco has a lot of responsibilities as a student-athlete and member of the Illinois State Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The senior public relations major has succeeded on and off the field at Illinois State through hard work, perseverance, and relationship building
“It is not as hard as it seems with all the support we have. You just have to talk to people,” Monaco said.
Head football coach Brock Spack said Monaco was recommended to play long snapper for the Redbirds by his coach at Wheaton Warrenville South High School. Monaco joined the team as a walk-on and has excelled in his role. In 2018 he was an honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference team selection and was named ISU’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
“He is a very hard worker, very disciplined,” Spack said. “People only notice the long snapper when they make a mistake. It is a really critical part of the game and you might only get six or seven snaps in a game at the most. You have to be right on target.”
Monaco didn’t come to Illinois State to join ROTC but was always passionate about the military. He was immediately interested in the program when the opportunity to join arose.
“I was just trying it out for the first year. I wasn’t locked in or anything,” Monaco said. “But I just fell in love with it. I met a lot of great people, learned a lot of cool stuff about the Army, and stuck with it.”
Last spring break, Monaco participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The event recognizes the American and Filipino prisoners of war who were forced to march over 60 miles by the Japanese army in a few short days during World War II.
Monaco and five other Illinois State ROTC students joined approximately 9,000 other marchers in a 26-mile march across the desert. Participants are required to wear at least 35 pounds of equipment for the full duration of the march. Monaco said his gear ended up weighing about 50 pounds.
“It was a very humbling experience and one of the greatest experiences and accomplishments of my life,” Monaco said. “But it was nothing compared to what those soldiers went through.”
Being part of the Bataan Memorial Death March meant Monaco would have to miss football’s first spring workout. He said he was encouraged by his coaching staff to participate and granted permission to miss the practice.
“Coach Spack as well as coach (Travis) Niekamp and all of the other coaches work well with me when it comes to balancing everything,” he said. “If I have to be at a ROTC physical training, they will let me miss out on practice. And it is the same for my instructors in ROTC. They work well with my coaches if there are conflicts with ROTC and games.”
Spack has been consistently impressed with how Monaco manages his heavy workload.
“Coaches don’t like surprises,” he said. “But he is very good at explaining his schedule and what he has to miss. He will miss some things in the spring and miss some things in the summer. That is part of what he does and we are fine with that.”
Monaco knows that serving in the Army is part of his future. After graduation he has the option to serve three years in active duty or eight years in the reserves. He is leaning toward active duty. To students who are thinking about joining ROTC, Monaco said: “Give it a shot because nothing in life comes easy. Sign up, work hard, and see what happens. No matter what you can say you gave it your all.”
Come see Paul Monaco and the rest of the Redbirds take on Morehead State in the home opener September 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Hancock Stadium. Go to goredbirds.com to get tickets and #BackTheBirds!