Brendan Dudeck’s goal growing up was to be a big-time college athlete, not a soldier.
“In middle school and high school, my dream was to someday play college sports at the D-1 level,” said former Hun School standout Dudeck.
“Football became the sport I could do that over basketball and baseball. I wanted to play against schools like Notre Dame and Penn State.”
But when Army recruited him for football, Dudeck decided to give the armed forces a look.
“We didn’t have anyone in the family who had been in the military,” noted Dudeck.
“I said to my dad (former Hun football coach Dave Dudeck), I didn’t know if the military was for me so I better take a visit there. I knew about the great character of the kids they bring in and I took a liking to the lifestyle.”
Once he realized that the military could be for him, Dudeck decided to check out the Naval Academy as well.
“I thought if I have seen Army, I want to see Navy,” said Dudeck with a laugh. “I went on a visit to Annapolis and fell in love with the place and the guys they bring in. There is a real brotherhood.”
Deciding that the Naval Academy and its football program was the best fit, Dudeck made military service and football his dual focus. The 2010 Hun alum, who did a post-graduate year at the Peddie School, has worked his way up the squad’s depth chart and is serving in the big brother role as he enters his senior season with the Midshipmen.
“I understand how things work and what is important,” said the 6’0, 202-pound Dudeck, who will be one of the team’s starting receivers this fall. “I lead by example. If I can say at the end of the day that I worked as hard as I can, that is the goal. You can’t just talk about it, you have to walk the walk.”
It took Dudeck plenty of hard work to learn the ropes, starting before school even began in his first year.
“We had plebe summer before we get in there which is the indoctrination into the military,” said Dudeck.
“They break you down and build you up; they want to see if you can be a team player. I think it was a tough adjustment.”
Joining the football team after getting through that indoctrination led to other adjustments for Dudeck.
“It was the best and craziest,” said Dudeck, reflecting on his first taste of college football.
“You go through plebe summer and you think you have it figured out. Then you get to the practice and you are not the center of attention, everyone has been captain or an all star. The practices are all on the clock. You have 24 five-minute periods and the horns are blowing. I started off as a quarterback. The QBs wear green jerseys so I
followed the green jerseys.”
Dudeck, who was switched to receiver in the spring of his first year, took some important lessons from his debut campaign even though he didn’t see any game action.
“You see the level of dedication it takes to play,” said Dudeck. “It is one thing to get recruited but to get on the field, there is the film study, weight lifting, and catching extra balls. People see the game on Saturday but they don’t see you in the winter doing suicide sprints.”
For Dudeck, the transition to receiver proved to be relatively seamless. “I had never played receiver before but I had been a defensive back all of my life so that helped me figure it out,” said Dudeck.
“I had a head start from playing QB; I had a grasp of all the plays and a different view of the offense.”
In his sophomore season, Dudeck got in his first game through special teams play.
“We went to Ireland to play Notre Dame in the first game and then we came back and we played at Penn State,” recalled Dudeck.
“One of the receivers got hurt and I was pulled up to special teams. It hit me, this my dream, this is exactly what I wanted.”
As Dudeck saw more action on special teams that fall, he started to develop a comfort level with the college game.
“The speed and size is a big difference but when it comes down to it, it is still football,” said Dudeck, whose younger brother, David, is a junior receiver for Boston College and youngest brother, Cameron, is headed for Navy and plans to play on the football team.
“You want to score touchdowns and keep the other team from scoring touchdowns. You need to focus in and play with confidence. When you are on the field, you need to focus on doing your job. It was awesome to get on the field and pick up my confidence. Special teams is one-third of the game. You can make huge plays on special teams that can change a game.”
Moving up in the receiver rotation in 2013, Dudeck started playing a greater role in the Navy offense, making five receptions for 48 yards and getting three rushes for 21 yards.
“I played with three older guys, it was awesome to learn from them,” said Dudeck.
“My first catch was against Western Kentucky. I ran my route, I caught the ball. I was so pumped after that.”
Other highlights last fall for Dudeck came in games against traditional powers Pitt and Notre Dame.
“I made two catches against Pitt, my family was there so that was great,” said Dudeck.
“That Notre Dame game was really cool. I went there with my dad when I was in second grade when he took a Hun recruit and when I made that catch in that
stadium, I couldn’t believe how much I have been blessed.”
The coolest moment of the season for Dudeck took place in a 34-7 win over archrival Army when he utilized his passing skills to throw for a two-point conversion late in the contest.
“We had just scored a TD and I was sprinting to the other side because I was on the kickoff team,” recalled Dudeck.
“All of a sudden everyone is screaming, saying they are going to run your play. We had been practicing it for weeks so that was my college quarterback moment.”
With Navy currently in preseason camp in preparation for its season opener against No. 5 Ohio State on August 30, Dudeck likes the way the team is practicing as it looks to improve on the 9-4 record it posted in 2013.
“Camp has been going well so far, everyone on the team is working hard,” said Dudeck. “We are trying to work out the kinks. We have come a long way but we have a long way to go.”
Dudeck, for his part, has come a long way from his debut season, mastering the nuances of his role in Navy’s run-oriented option attack.
“I truly understand the offense,” said Dudeck. “Unlike other teams, it is not solely about catching the ball. When we are asked to make a play, we have to step up. In the option offense it is more about blocking, you never know what block is
going to spring somebody for a long run.”
Navy is ready to take a run at Ohio State this Saturday, thrilled about the opportunity to play the powerhouse Buckeyes.
“We are focused on August 30; we couldn’t ask for anything more,” asserted Dudeck. “Everybody has been thinking about that since the very first day after the Middle Tennessee game (a 24-7 win in the Armed Forces Bowl last December). We are ready to give it everything we have got.”
Drawing on his experience at Annapolis, Dudeck, who trained with the SEALs this summer and hopes to join that legendary unit after graduation, is ready to give everything as he looks ahead to serving as a soldier.
“It is just overall maturity; I have seen stuff over the last four years,” said Dudeck.
“I realize the amount of sacrifice that people are making on a daily basis. It is a change of perspective for me and my family and realizing how lucky we are to live in this country. It is a blessing.”