TAMPA — A year ago, Ryan Lockwood was wrapping up his junior season on USF's baseball team, but the outfielder's focus had already shifted to a different, even more demanding challenge.
As a freshman in 2008, Lockwood put together a 30-game hitting streak and had earned national freshman of the year honors. But during Lockwood's junior year, Bulls coach Lelo Prado had received calls from his parents, concerned because he seemed to be losing weight. Turns out that in addition to the juggling act of being a student and baseball player, Lockwood had begun the process of training himself, physically and mentally, to join the Navy SEAL program.
"I had played sports my entire life, really gotten into it. But I didn't feel I was going to continue with baseball," said Lockwood, 23, who started 142 games in three seasons. "I didn't think it was the path that was right for me. I wanted to be part of something else that was bigger than myself."
Lockwood worked out in the morning before classes, got in swimming at lunch time, all while continuing his baseball duties, hitting .314 that season. By the end of the spring, he had decided he was done with baseball, graduating with a degree in marketing and spending the past year preparing himself for next week. Wednesday, he reports to Great Lakes Naval Station, near Chicago, for basic training.
His baseball coach, once apprehensive, is impressed with the commitment Lockwood has shown to staying on his course.
"Here's a kid who went to Jesuit High School, had never been in a bad area in his life, and now he's going to jump out of a plane where people are shooting at you," Prado said. "I'd say, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' He was adamant about it."
Lockwood, along with former USF decathlete Grant Scelzi, a Largo graduate, has been training locally 3-4 times a week with a group of retired SEALs. Preparations included a 36-hour simulation of "Hell Week," the most grueling part of SEAL training, which included immersion in 51-degree water.
His training will continue over the next year, including six months of Basic Underwater Demolition Skills, or BUDS, then training in dive skills and land warfare, then field qualification training. It's what Lockwood calls "a very long process," but it would end with him earning his trident, which marks completion of his SEAL training. The true obstacles to overcome, he has found, are more mental than physical.
"Most of it is mental," Lockwood said. "Everyone has a physical breaking point, but once you decide that you're not going to quit, it doesn't matter."
The reputation of Navy SEALs was strong to begin with, but with recent news that a SEAL unit was responsible for the raid in Pakistan that found and killed Osama bin Laden, there is a new level of reverence and respect for the highly trained soldiers.
"It's like firemen and policemen after 9/11," Prado said. "People now are understanding what these guys do for a living. It's kind of crazy."
Lockwood is careful to distance himself from the heroic efforts of the SEALs in Pakistan, saying that he only aspires to become what they are, but he admits there has been a new spark of inspiration at his training sessions.
"It's definitely an extra motivation, but the honor of it is explicitly reserved for them," Lockwood said. "I've made the commitment, but that's all theirs. Just as an American, you're proud of them and what they did."
Prado, whose current season is entering its final weeks, is excited to see the day come that Lockwood reports for training. He said Lockwood is "ripped" in a way he never was in training for baseball, and he admires his former player for his dedication to his new goal.
"I tell my players, 'Whatever you want to do, make sure you do it right and go 100 percent,' " Prado said. "Well, he's going 100 percent. You can't be half in. I have a lot of respect for him for going through this thing like he is."