By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — It's been nearly three years since Josh McNary last played a football game.
His senior season at Army ended with a 16-14 win against SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30, 2010. McNary scored a touchdown on a 55-yard fumble return for the Black Knights' first points and finished with three tackles and an assisted sack.
Then he began a two-year enlistment as a lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
On Sunday, McNary expects to return to the gridiron to make his NFL debut with the Indianapolis Colts.
"It feels good," the inside linebacker said Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "The same thing has been running through my mind, just the fact I haven't really been able to go after somebody or have somebody go after me at game speed. That just adds on to the excitement I'm feeling."
McNary was a defensive end in college, and it was widely assumed when he signed with Indianapolis this spring he'd be used as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. But he did most of his work in training camp on the inside.
He suffered a hamstring injury a week and a half into camp and missed the rest of the preseason. The Colts kept him on the eight-man practice squad, but it took some time for McNary to get back into game shape.
"I was sidelined seven weeks and had to build myself back up," he said. "I had to get back into football shape after the injury. That really took about three weeks."
Indianapolis liked what it saw in practice enough to elevate McNary to the 53-man roster on Tuesday. That doesn't guarantee he'll play Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Tennessee Titans — the Colts must list seven players as inactive each game day — but head coach Chuck Pagano sounded Wednesday like a man willing to give McNary a shot.
"Special teams, first and foremost, (he) can make a huge impact, I think, and help us," Pagano said. "We're adding a guy that's a great athlete. Strong, fast, physical football player (that will) match up well against this team. So the major contribution is there, and then whenever we can get him up to speed as far as defense goes, then we'll do it."
McNary said he's preparing to play both defense and special teams and that he didn't appreciate the level of commitment necessary to play the latter until he reached the NFL.
"You always kind of overlook special teams as a spectator, but as a player there is a lot that goes into it," he said. "It's really involved. It deserves just as much study and preparation as any other position."
The fact McNary is preparing to play professional football at all means he's already beaten long odds.
He wasn't recruited out of high school and considered walking away from the game. His family's military history ultimately drew him to West Point, and he decided to join Army's football team as a walk on.
McNary set the school record for sacks and drew the eyes of pro scouts, but his military commitment prevented him from being drafted. With his enlistment set to expire this summer, he attended a regional NFL Scouting Combine in Dallas and was signed by the Colts.
If and when he steps onto the field Sunday, his story will serve as an inspiration for others who face obstacles while chasing their dreams.
"It certainly can be, and I hope a lot of people see it that way," McNary said. "Don't place any limitations on yourself. Your potential is unlimited. It's just a matter of how much work you're willing to put in it, how much you're willing to sacrifice."