Norwich senior DB
By Derek Dunning,
Assistant Sports Information Director, Norwich University
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Charles Stiles hasn't gone the traditional route through college.
The 27-year-old strong safety on the Norwich University football team came to Northfield in the fall of 2008 after having served two tours in Iraq as a member
of the United States Marine Corps.
"As far as I can remember and growing up as a teenager, I wanted to be in the Marine Corps," Stiles said. "I had some strong influences and mentors and they kind of steered me into that direction. My senior year of high school was also
9/11 so that kind of had a strong influence on my decisions as well."
Stiles gave up his traditional path through college and returned home during his freshman year at a Division II college in his home state of Pennsylvania.
"I had a scholarship to play football at Millersville University, but I left school during my first year for family reasons and to help out at home," he said. "All my friends were over in Iraq and I wanted to be a part of that so I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003."
Stiles was stationed in Okinawa, Japan for three years and during that time he was sent over to Iraq twice. He was in 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion with a military operations specialty of communications and returned from his first tour in September of 2004 and came home from the second in the spring of 2007.
Stiles' tours of duty had a large impact on how he ended up at Norwich when he found out about the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP).
"I was actually influenced by my staff non-commissioned officer in Okinawa to join the program," Stiles said. "We submitted the packet to try and get accepted by the Marine Corps headquarters."
MECEP provides members of the military a tuition scholarship to attend school in hopes that they can bring their real-life experiences as an active member of the military to the corp.
"The goal of the program is to take enlisted marines and give them an education at a university with an ROTC program and then upon completion of your degree, you get commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant."
In his three years at Norwich, Stiles has been a stand-out not only on the gridiron but also a liaison and mentor for the Corps of Cadets as a member of MECEP.
Norwich assistant coach Mark Murnyack recruited Stiles when he initially graduated from high school in 2002 and six years later, the offer was still on the table.
"I was looking at a few other places, but I kind of wanted to go to a smaller school with a close-knit community. Vermont provided an opportunity to focus on my academics and not all the other distractions that can come along with a college lifestyle."
During Stiles' career, Norwich has gone from a 2-8 record in 2008 to an 8-3 record and ECFC Championship in 2009, as well as another strong start this year at 4-1.
"It's been an eventful process," Stiles said. "Nobody really likes to lose. But, it's been pretty exciting the past few years seeing the transformation of the team from not only the players; but with the coaching staff too. It's been a pretty moving experience."
Stiles missed last weekend's 64-7 rout of Becker College due to a military event that was mandatory for him to attend.
As an active-duty marine, Stiles simply said, "the military comes first."
Upon graduating in May next spring, Stiles will go through a series of schooling with the Marine Corps to find a suitable job for him to carry out the remainder of his service.
"My first and foremost choice would be to be a pilot. I would like the challenge and getting out of my comfort zone and jumping on a new opportunity. But, I would also have no problems with going back to ground side and being an infantry officer."
In four games this season, Stiles has recorded 12 solo tackles and seven assists for 19 total tackles. He also has a pass break-up and one forced fumble.
The Cadets return home this Saturday to Sabine Field where they will host Gallaudet University at 2 p.m. as part of Norwich's Homecoming weekend.
"It's a cliché, but we really are just trying to take it one game at a time," Stiles said. "The Mount Ida loss is probably going to be a black eye on the season, but that's behind us now and we're just trying to move on to Gallaudet."