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Former Navy athletes happy for Billy Hurley

Billy Hurley III watches his shot from the second tee during the final round of the Quicken Loans National PGA golf tournament, Sunday, June 26, 2016, in Bethesda, Md.
Billy Hurley III watches his shot from the second tee during the final round of the Quicken Loans National PGA golf tournament, Sunday, June 26, 2016, in Bethesda, Md. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Neither Orioles relief pitcher Oliver Drake nor Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds follows the PGA Tour closely.

In fact, neither was aware Sunday that 2004 Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley III was in the lead in the final round at the PGA Tour's Quicken Loans National in Bethesda.

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Still, both former Midshipmen were excited to hear that the 34-year-old Hurley was on the brink of his first PGA tour win at Congressional Country Club after taking a two-stroke lead into Sunday's final round.

"I think it's huge," Drake said before the Orioles finished their series with the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards. "I think it shows guys that go there that there's a chance to pursue an athletic career afterwards if they want, because there's people who are showing that you can do it."

Drake, who spent two years at the Naval Academy but left after being selected by the Orioles in the 2008 amateur draft, also pointed to what Reynolds did in Annapolis as a record-breaking quarterback who now hopes to continue in Baltimore as a receiver and punt returner after being picked in the sixth round in April.

If anything, what Hurley was doing at Congressional -- win or lose -- helps dispel the notion that the Naval Academy is the end of a player's athletic career, Drake said.

Though the 29-year-old pitcher took a much different route – leaving after his junior year with a promise from the Orioles to repay the $100,000 he owed the government – Drake and Navy graduate Mitch Harris became the first two former Midshipmen to play in the major leagues last season since 1921.

"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, if you want a chance to play in any pro sport, the service academies, you can't do that,'" said Drake, who has pitched in 13 games with the Orioles. "You've shown that you can do that, and it's awesome, because it just attracts more attention to the Naval Academy, which is such an amazing and special place."

Reynolds, who is preparing for his first training camp with the Ravens, said in a telephone interview from his parent's home outside Nashville, Tenn., that his interest in professional golf started and ends with Tiger Woods, the injured host of the Quicken Loans.

Hearing that a former Midshipman was leading the tournament, Reynolds said, "That's awesome. Guys like Billy Hurley paved the way for what people like myself and Chris Swain [currently trying out for the San Diego Chargers as a free agent] are doing. He's sacrificed a lot more for his country than we have."

Reynolds, who will serve for eight years in the Navy reserves in lieu of his five-year post-grad service commitment, said that putting off a pro career as Hurley, Harris and others have done "can definitely set you back in the pro setting, obviously in something for him like professional golf where you have to work at it, day in and day out."

Said Drake, "They did it a little differently where they graduated, served, so their stories are really incredible. It's amazing to me because they didn't get the chance, really, once they graduated to put their sport No. 1. They had to go and had other priorities, so what both of them did is really incredible."

Drake said that he will be rooting for Hurley to finish it off.

"Oh, definitely," Drake said. "You always root for those guys. After spending two years there, the connection you make with the people there, and especially with him, having graduated, how hard that is and how much work you have to put in. And then to still be able to then chase the dream of being a pro golfer right now, it's incredible. How do you not root for that guy?"

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