Since he was 12 years old, Rodney Purifoy has been infatuated with uniforms. He couldn't wait until he reached the ninth grade so he could join the H.D. Woodson High School ROTC unit.
"I was always intrigued by uniforms. They sort of symbolized excellence to me," said the 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior at the Northeast Washington school. "When I got to high school and joined the ROTC, all I thought about then was going into the military, preferably an academy. I wasn't too hot about the Army or the Marines -- the Navy was it."
Whatever fears the soft-spoken, reserved Purifoy harbored about the Naval Academy's disciplined life style were dispelled after he enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Navy all-America running back Napoleon McCallum.
"I came to a football camp at the academy last summer and was introduced to him," Purifoy said. "I tried not to show my emotion about meeting him, but I was full of anxiety and excitement. We didn't talk much about football. All we talked about was Navy life. I was very, very impressed with him."
Navy was impressed with Purifoy, too.
"He wasn't very big, but he was quick as small-town gossip," said Bill Householder, Navy's running backs coach. "I worked with him directly and he did a lot of things very well. He really impressed a lot of people, enough for them to inquire if he might be interested in the Academy. We are hopeful he does a good job at the prep school and we're looking forward to seeing him being here the following year."
After camp and his meeting with McCallum, the next most important goal left on Purifoy's list of life achievements was being accepted to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. A couple of months ago, he received his letter of acceptance.
"I was so happy I couldn't contain myself," Purifoy recalled. "My girlfriend [LaTonya Baptist] tells me to stress the positive and be confident in whatever I do. I tried to be smooth [nonchalant] when the letter came. We opened it together and I just started jumping all over the place. So much for being smooth."
Purifoy is an honor roll student at Woodson but scored just over 800 on the SAT and will be required to attend the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., for a year before coming to Annapolis.
According to the Navy Sports Information Office and the Interhigh League athletic office, Purifoy is probably the first black D.C. Public Schools All-Met athlete to attend the Naval Academy.
Purifoy rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored 16 touchdowns for the Warriors last year and was an honorable mention All-Met choice. He also runs track and plays baseball for the school.
"I understand I might be the first black athlete [from the District] to go to Navy, but I welcome challenges," Purifoy said. "I don't mind doing that extra year in prep school. In fact, even had I scored much higher on the SATs, I would have requested that year in prep school. I want to make the necessary adjustments to the life and I might need that year.
"But I'm sure I'll like it. I plan to make the Navy an important part of my life and this is the beginning. I can't wait until Aug. 1 [when he reports to prep school]."
Lucille Christian, the Woodson principal, and Cmdr. Clifford Gibson, the ROTC instructor, both said they were very proud of Purifoy and felt he would do well at the Naval Academy.
"I would love to see as many of our children experience the good life," Christian said. "The academies and the Ivy League schools afford the networking opportunities for them when they become adults. These are fine mechanisms for them to gain that higher education."
Not forgotten in Purifoy's scheme of things is football. Purifoy, whose slashing, darting style of running reminds one of a smaller version of McCallum, hopes to contribute either as a running back or kick returner at the prep school.
"Rodney is a good athlete and should do fine," said Bob Headen, his football coach at Woodson. "He had a good camp and his quickness impressed the Navy coaches. For anyone to play three sports and still maintain a high academic average tells you something about his discipline. This is perfect for him. Because of his size, we felt he might not get a good look by the Division I schools. This is even better than hoped for."
"Football is only part of the life in the academy," Purifoy said. "I'm looking for that excellent education and the occupation opportunity. I can retire in 20 years."
Purifoy credits much of his love for the military to the interesting classes at school.
"I've learned quite a bit in my three years in ROTC," said Purifoy, who was captain of the rifle team. "Next year will be a different sort of life for me, but I'm looking forward to it. I can see myself looking into a crystal ball and see the Navy as part of me. I guess when I get my real uniform, I'll stand in the mirror for hours and just look at myself."