COVINGTON, Ga. — It’s not all about football for Robert Black, IV. Not even close. The former Newton star defensive back looks to get on the field for the Air Force Academy in 2018, but more than that, he’s celebrating his official appointment to the Academy that gives him the chance to do something even more meaningful that football.
In this week’s College Football Q&A, Black talks about everything from his love for serving the country and his thoughts on the recent NFL ruling that makes it mandatory for NFL athletes to stand during the National Anthem.
Stovall: You’re getting ready to walk into your second year at Air Force. What, for you, has been the biggest difference between high school life and college life at a place like Air Force?
BLACK: “Academically the work load is just so much different. It might be because I go to the Air Force Academy. But it’s tough. It’s tough. It’s a heavy workload. A lot of staying up past midnight to get things done. Some of that due to procrastination, but you work on things like that. You just gotta stay on top of your work. Nobody’s there to make sure you stay on top of your homework. When it’s due you have to have it printed out or completed, and if you don’t it’s a zero. No ifs ands or buts about it.”
STOVALL: What are you studying there? What’s your major?
BLACK: “Honestly right now I don’t know for sure. I’m looking towards maybe something like management or something like that. I’m just not positive yet. I’m taking some time to explore some things.”
STOVALL: You talked a lot about the workload in the classroom. What was it like on the football field for you in your first year?
BLACK: “Well, you know, I was at the prep school so I wasn’t actually on that Air Force Academy team yet, but I will be next season. But basically at prep school we were basically playing like in the JUCO league, and it was basically to keep us in the game and active. We played as a team and it was just all freshman, straight out of high school. It was a good time and we got in a lot of good work. We ran most of the things they run at the Academy team. We ran that triple option, you know. Defensive work, the same defensive schemes that run at the Academy, so that should give me an upper leg when I get up there.”
STOVALL: Some people want to just jump in as true freshman and get right to it, but the way you’re talking it seems being at the prep school level was almost like a benefit to you.
BLACK: “It was. It was almost, in a way, they way I look at it, was almost like a redshirt. Gives you a chance to introduce you to that college atmosphere and the academics as well as that football way of life, so it gives you an extra year, because you know, at the Academy you only have four years. There is no redshirt or anything like that, so that’s just how I see it.”
STOVALL: Fort Collins, Colorado is a long way from Georgia. What would you say has been your biggest challenge making that transition?
BLACK: “Honestly I would say being away from home was a big thing, but honestly it’s the military things. You know, that’s something you can’t overlook. I’m in a uniform every day, whether it’s in the fatigues or I’m in the uniform dressed in a tie. Learning military customs and courtesies, things like that. That was a huge…I had to get my mind right. Especially when I first got there I had to go through basic (training). I’ll have to do it again when I get back now that I’m in the actual academy. That all had my eyes raised, but you get through it. You push through it. It was new to all of us, but we had each other to lean on during the hardships, and just developed into what we needed to be there to be successful.”
STOVALL: A couple of weeks ago you had a picture on Twitter of this nice letter from the Air Force you received. Tell us about that and why that was even more important to you than anything on the football field.
BLACK: “That was like the golden ticket into the Academy. That appointment. Once you get that and once you’re accepted, you’re on your way, but it’s a highly fought over thing. It’s competitive. Even at the prep school alone there were probably about maybe15 to 20 people who didn’t even get an appointment after they went through the 10 months in the program. They look at three things to get an appointment. They look at your academics, your athletics — things like the mile and a half run, the physical fitness tests — and then you have your military knowledge tests where you have to know certain things. We have marching inspections. PAIs which are like personal appearance inspections. You’ve just gotta know what you’re supposed to do and follow and don’t be lazy. It’s tough but it’s doable. You just gotta stay focused and dedicated, that’s all.”
STOVALL: During signing day I remember being really impressed with your choice to go that route, and I remember it from day one feeling like something bigger than football? Where does the passion to serve country come from?
BLACK: “Honestly I’d probably have to say my grandfather. He served in the Marines for over 10 years. And, you know, I got some other offers, but once I got that offer I took my official, you talk to your grandparents things like that, he wanted to just emphasize how big of an opportunity this is. Being able to serve your country. Knowing you have this job straight out of college, still get to play football that I love. Really just having a secure life after serving your country. He was just saying that after he served the Marines, it was just such an honor and something not to pass up. I kind of took his word on it and went with it and plan to stay dedicated to it.”
STOVALL: Of course you know what’s transpired recently with the NFL ruling that all athletes have to either stand for the playing of the National Anthem or stay in the locker room, and the ongoing debate. As a man, a Black man and a football player, what’s your take on that whole subject?
BLACK: “I would have to say that the main idea is to respect that American flag. I know we have some turmoil in the U.S. Things are going on. Some people feel they’ve been treated unfairly, in many cases they may have. I understand all that, but at the end of the day, I just think you should respect that flag. Like, staying in the locker room if you have something against it is fine, but I just don’t think it’s acceptable to just bash the flag boldly or disrespect it. There are many people who have passed in World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm, you know. Various things and they weren’t just one race. The military pulls from each race and each background of the U.S., and sometimes they are asked give their lives, and just for that reason alone, you should respect it. It’s some better ways to gain attention or protest, but I just can’t agree with just disrespecting the flag.”