How an Army Ranger Wound Up at Dartmouth
Dartmouth College running back Kevin Price catches a pass during a Thursday practice on Memorial Field. Price, a 31-year old former U.S. Army Ranger, walked on to the Big Green last winter. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — Go ahead, see if you can pick out the toughest Dartmouth College football player by just looking at team headshots.
Is it Cody Fulleton, the defensive end with a predator’s eyes? He can be downright menacing. What about bearded guard Cohle Fowler, who sometimes resembles an angry Paul Bunyan? Or linebacker Eric Wickham, who occasionally calls to mind former NFL terror Lawrence Taylor while he leans in from the edge, ready to blitz?
Sorry, none of those guys. Even given a dozen chances, the odds are slim that you’d select Kevin Price, a first-year running back whose appearance is decidedly ordinary, but whose past and present make him utterly unique.
Not only did the Louisiana native endure six three-month deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as an elite U.S. Army member, but he’s a 31-year-old husband and father of two young boys.
Price’s teammates are as many as 12 years younger, and can’t fully appreciate what he’s experienced as a combat soldier, business entrepreneur, college student and family man.
“He’s not the best athlete we’ve got out here, but he works as hard as anybody. And he never offers an excuse,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens.
“It’s fun to see the progress he’s made, and it’s inspiring. We don’t make a big deal of it, but all the players are aware of what he’s been through.”
Price grew up in Metairie, La., a community of roughly 140,000 on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain and wedged between New Orleans and Kenner, home to the metropolitan area’s airport. The NFL’s New Orleans Saints have their training facility in Metairie, and Price grew up a passionate gridiron fan who played in youth leagues from age 7. He also showed an early aptitude for exertion.
During the summer, Price’s parents, Mike and Karan, would write out a list of chores their three kids could do for payment while they were gone at work. Loading the dishwasher might be worth 15 cents, for example. Wanting to encourage physical fitness, Mike included on the list climbing a rope that hung in the back shed.
“We’d come home, and my daughter would have cleaned the kitchen and my older son would have weeded the garden and Kevin would have climbed the rope 14 times,” his father said with a chuckle.
Kevin Price attended tiny Lutheran High School in his hometown, where the student body of 150 meant the Gryphons barely had enough players to compete in Louisiana’s smallest high school division. The numbers crunch wasn’t helped when Price, one of numerous two-way starters, became academically ineligible midway through his junior season and again just prior to his senior campaign.
“I barely made it through school, and my parents probably didn’t think I’d make it,” Price said. “I was disrespectful person and I didn’t think school was important. I got suspended for being bad in class, just joking around and being a (jerk).”
Price worked as a clean-up man for a construction crew after graduation, but was intrigued when a friend joined the Army Reserves and mentioned the Ranger program to him. The Army Rangers are specialized infantrymen, often thrust into the most dangerous of situations and frequently inserted into global hot spots in small teams to protect, capture or kill for their country.
Famous U.S. generals Colin Powell, David Petraeus and Wesley Clark were all Rangers, and the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II was sparked by Ranger teams scaling cliffs against overwhelming fire. During the Vietnam war, small groups of Rangers were renowned for disappearing into the jungle for weeks, and even months at a time, their covert strikes and reconnaissance skills achieving mythical status.
Price enlisted on Sept. 3, 2001, and was in Fort Benning, Ga., having his picture taken eight days later when a woman ran into the room with news of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Hustled into basic training, Price didn’t see video of the events until six months later. He went through his advanced infantry training and Airborne School, making five parachute jumps as a prelude to 25 more while on active duty.
“It’s a dangerous thing, and I’ve never really been fine with heights,” Price said of leaps as low as 1,000 feet. “It’s not like skydiving.”
Price completed his first deployment before attending Ranger School, which the army euphemistically describes as “an intense, 61-day combat leadership course oriented toward small-unit tactics.”
It’s designed to try and break the will of its participants, while training those who finish to lead their peers.
Exercises such as hand-to-hand combat, traversing extreme obstacle courses, navigating in dark wilderness and running and marching long distances with heavy packs are included. Sleep and food deprivation are tossed in for good measure. Fewer than 50 percent of participants graduate in some classes, but Price was one of them. He eventually became a designated marksman, a demolition specialist and a squad leader, overseeing about a dozen men on nighttime raids so frequent, the Rangers slept with their boots on so as not to be slowed down.
Price describes his group as “tasked with direct-action raids on high-value targets” that often involved attacking dwellings and engaging in fire fights.
It brings to mind the much-publicized raid on Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound, except that the Rangers don’t have nearly the preparation time or the backup when they appear out of the night.
“There were tons of times I was afraid,” Price said, his tone even and his gaze direct. “When you take the lead going into a room and you see someone die right in front of your eyes, a terrorist who you just killed, that brings the seriousness of the situation to you in a hurry.”
Asked how many people he killed in combat, and whether those actions trouble him, Price shifted slightly in his chair.
“I’ve been in a few fights and I’ll leave it at that,” he said. “When you’ve trained for it and you know you took a terrorist off the earth and they can’t attack America, that’s a really good feeling. I think we did a good job of treating the women and children we encountered really well. We never injured any of them.”
Before his final Ranger deployment, Price, by now a staff sergeant, was hanging out at a friend’s apartment complex pool when he met Amanda, his future wife.
“I just met my husband,” she told her roommate upon returning from her first date with Kevin. They were married six months later.
Price decided he was leaving the Army. After six years, he was tiring of the overseas assignments and U.S.-based training missions stacking on top of each other. He didn’t want to become “a disgruntled old guy,” but he found himself working alongside one at his first job out of the service, as the manager of a pool equipment warehouse in Louisiana. One of his employees was a grizzled Vietnam vet. While Price respected the man, he dreaded becoming him 20 or 30 years down the road.
The young couple then opened a Chicago-style pizzeria in Metairie, while they both attended school. Though the restaurant thrived, they ran out of money after 18 months and sold the business. Kevin twice deployed for four months as a civilian contractor with the private military security firm Blackwater, the same organization which achieved worldwide notoriety when four of its contractors were attacked in 2004, their charred bodies hung from an Iraqi bridge over the Euphrates River.
Price trained members of the Afghan Border Police. While returning to a combat zone “almost felt like home,” to Kevin, it was highly stressful on his family. Amanda and their son moved in with Kevin’s parents, and their finances were in tatters.
“My wife and I hit rock bottom there,” Price said. “We had used every single dollar (on the restaurant) and moving back in with my parents was really hard when you’re a man who wants to support his family.”
Price quit Blackwater, resettling his family in Orlando, where Kevin earned a 3.89 grade-point average at a local community college while dreaming of becoming a doctor. Looking to transfer to a small, liberal arts school, he applied to Dartmouth.
“We thought Dartmouth was a long shot because he was a transfer student and he was too old,” Amanda said.
“They gave us a time when we’d know and we waited by the computer for 30 minutes. I was super-pregnant, but when we got the (acceptance) message, we were shouting and jumping around.”
The Prices and their sons, 6-year-old Kayden and 2-year-old Connar, have lived in Dartmouth student housing at Sachem Field in West Lebanon for a little more than two years. His tuition has been paid for by a combination of G.I. Bill and Dartmouth financial aid funds, although the couple has taken out a loan to pay for everyday needs. The hard times have seemed to make the couple stronger.
“I have the greatest wife in the world,” Price said. “She’s stuck with me and not given me any gripes about it.”
Kevin is on track to graduate in the spring and is applying to nursing schools. He couldn’t see tacking roughly a decade of medical school and residency on top of the sacrifices his family has already made.
“My kids would be in high school by the time I got finished,” he said. “I would have missed so much of their growing up. This still provides a path into medicine.”
College football? It’s something Kevin Price had always wanted to experience, even if he wasn’t going to be a star. He nervously approached Teevens in January with a request to walk onto the team. He struggled through spring practice while learning the plays and trying to master physical technique, but inspired a huge cheer when he blasted through the line for a short touchdown run during the spring game.
Price, who shares uniform No. 1 with ponytailed cornerback Chase Womack, somehow crams football’s demanding schedule of practices, meetings and conditioning sessions alongside intense academic efforts and his role as president of a Dartmouth veterans’ group.
He’s expected to get some carries in Sunday’s 1 p.m. jayvee game against visiting Williams, having more than justified the faith shown by Teevens, who had to cut some other walk-ons to conform with roster limits.
“Guys can have all kinds of excuses, like they’re hot or tired or sore, but they look at a guy like Kevin and it gives them something to live up to,” Teevens said. “He’s already seen more stuff than most of those guys will see in their lifetimes and he just comes out and goes to work.”
Back in Louisiana, Price’s parents are busting with pride. Their older son, Michael, who served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Infantry Division, is in college and plans to attend law school. The idea that Kevin, who once had to be corralled into attending school, will soon be an Ivy League graduate, seems almost surreal.
“For him, it’s mind over matter, and once he decides something, he’s going to do it,” Mike Price said. “It’s unfortunate he didn’t have that same self-confidence when he was younger, but I think the military brought that out of him. He definitely learned that hard work does pay off.”
For Kevin Price, it’s all about the effort.
“Even during workouts in the Army, I pictured myself playing college football, and this was my last year to give it a shot,” he said.
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.