ATHENS — Thirteen years ago, Jack Loonam’s father came home from Iraq, where he had been deployed for a year. Lt. Col. Tim Loonam gave his son a gift: The Georgia Bulldogs flag he had taken with him.
“Ever since then I’ve had it everywhere I go,” Jack Loonam said.
And now he’s taking it back to the Middle East.
Loonam, who played tight end at Georgia from 2011-14, leaves soon on his own nine-month Army deployment. A logistics officer and platoon leader, Loonam will be going to Kuwait and “depending on what happens north,” perhaps elsewhere.
Chances are you don’t remember Loonam’s playing days at Georgia. Mainly because he hardly played: He got in one game, against Charleston Southern in 2014. It was the end of a blowout, and Loonam just acted as a blocker on three run plays. When he came to the sideline, then-tight ends coach John Lilly pulled him aside.
“You definitely held him, didn’t you?” Lilly said, according to Loonam.
“Yes sir,” Loonam replied.
“Eh, whatever,” Lilly said.
Loonam also almost got in the Clemson game in 2014, and was going to go in against Troy, but the team didn’t get the ball back.
“I remember Lilly talking to (Mike) Bobo on the headset, saying, ‘Do we want to throw the ball to him if we get the ball back?’” Loonam said. “But unfortunately we didn’t get the ball back.”
Maybe it was appropriate that Loonam’s only game action ended up being that game against Charleston Southern: That was Georgia’s military appreciation day.
Loonam came to Georgia on an ROTC scholarship, as well as an invited walk-on to the football team. Not that he joined the team with any illusions.
“My father gave me a lot of attributes, but unfortunately none of them was the right height, weight and speed for an athlete,” said Loonam, who was listed at 6-foot and 217 pounds in Georgia’s media guide.
Tim Loonam is a bit of a trailblazer. He served as an Army veterinarian, first in the Army Rangers, according to the family. And he got his vet training at UGA’s acclaimed vet school from 1996-2000. The family then moved from Athens, but remained Bulldog fans, with Tim’s fandom rubbing off on his son. He attended high school in Lexington, S.C., but when Lilly told him he could come to Georgia, the decision was made.
When Jack Loonam was commissioned into the U.S. Army in 2015, the ceremony was held at Sanford Stadium.
Military analogies are common in football. Loonam, having experienced both, does see some similarities: The feeling of family and looking out for each other. The leadership style in each.
One difference: Comparing football to war. While Loonam hasn’t seen it yet, he knows a lot of people who have.
“It gets over-exagerrated,” Loonam said. “You ask any of the soldiers here who are experienced soldiers, they will gladly trade football for going to war.”
As he prepares to go to the Mideast, Loonam said he has “mixed feelings.” He’s excited and ready to fulfill his duty, but also will miss his family. He’s intrigued by what might happen while he’s there.
But most of all, he feels a responsibility to the 42 men and women in his platoon.
“My No. 1 job,” he said, “is to get all of them home.”