JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Despite his Canadian upbringing, Jaguars rookie defensive tackle Eli Ankou has an affinity for the U.S. military.
The Ottawa native went to school at UCLA, offering him an opportunity to learn more about the local armed forces. Getting a closer look helped Ankou build an appreciation for the U.S. Navy.
On Sunday, Ankou will honor the U.S. Navy SEALs with a special pair of cleats. The military-inspired footwear will be worn as part of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign.
The league allows players to wear cleats featuring their individual causes once a year. In Week 13, hundreds of players will look to raise awareness for dozens of causes.
Ankou will be paying respect to the men and women who serve his adopted home.
"I was torn between looking at all the branches," Ankou said.
"A lot of the people I know actually served in the military. But I had - pleasure would be a weird statement to say - I did a three-day Navy Seal training type of deal at UCLA. One of the guys who was training us was a former Navy SEAL, Ray Care. He's huge and on TV and all that."
Ankou's opportunity to learn more about the U.S. Navy SEALs changed his perspective. His admiration for the servicemen and women grew out of the experience.
"During that time I sort of got a glimpse of how hard what they do is," Ankou said. "That just bought me a whole lot more respect for them as people and as warriors."
Ankou also shares an appreciation for the Canadian military. He was open to featuring his home country's armed forces, but felt strongly enough about the U.S. Navy to give that branch sole representation.
"Absolutely," Ankou said. "I definitely considered [the Canadian military]. I guess for me, at this very moment, it was kind of really important for me to show [the U.S. Navy]."
Ankou appreciates the opportunity the NFL is giving players. The rookie knows that there is more to life than football.
"It's absolutely important," Ankou said. "I love football, it's my life, but there are other very important things that are going on and I want to make sure those things are being appropriately represented. That's important to me."
The "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign allows for individuality, a rare instance where NFL players can differentiate themselves from each other in a positive light. Week 13 will offer a glimpse into the different interests and stories of NFL players.
"I think that it's great and shows a lot of diversity [because] people come from all walks of life and people have a bunch of different interests," Ankou said.
Ankou acknowledged that several causes deserve better representation. The campaign is about serving those who need support outside of the confines of football stadiums.
"I've seen some people who have done the humane society, the Boys and Girls Club and this and that," Ankou said. "I think that's very important because we have a platform where we can draw attention to those things. We can - I guess - give those people a voice."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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