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Dontae Skywalker

Dontae Skywalker

Staff sergeant | U.S. Army | Class of 2004

No, Dontae Skywalker is not a character in the new “Star Wars” movie. But in his last job, the 2004 UI grad was every bit as popular.

Before becoming a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard, Skywalker was a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, as the Army’s oldest active-duty infantry unit goes by. They perform many functions, from conducting military ceremonies at the White House to providing funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery.

They’re also the soldiers who keep a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, a cherished role Skywalker played for a few years earlier this decade.

The experience had a humbling effect on the former sport management major from inner-city Chicago, even if he didn’t stay quite as anonymous as most tomb sentinels.

In November 2011, while in town for a game against the Redskins, then-San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh took his team on a field trip to Arlington. Skywalker played tour guide, giving an inspiring 20-minute talk on the monument that’s dedicated to servicemen who die without their remains being identified. 

“What I witnessed was a commitment to excellence,” Harbaugh would say later. “That’s something we know about in terms of football.”

A week later, during a game against the Giants, the coach returned the favor, signaling in a new entry in the 49ers’ playbook: a 20-yard pass that became known as The Skywalker.