Zachary High School senior Joseph Florida, 17, received word over the Christmas holidays that he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Florida is in his fourth year of Zachary’s Army Junior ROTC program and holds the position of battalion executive officer with the rank of cadet major, according to retired Maj. Leslie Martin, senior JROTC instructor at Zachary High.

Florida is on the school’s powerlifting team and a former Bronco wrestler. He has a cumulative grade-point average of 4.0.

Florida’s father is retired from the Army and his grandfather was in the Marine Corps.

“I guess you could say it’s in my blood,” Florida said. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve wanted to be in the military.”

Gaining acceptance into a U.S. military academy, however, is no easy feat.

“It’s an extremely competitive process,” Martin said.

According to the Naval Academy’s official admissions statistics for 2012-13, of the 19,146 applicants, 1,408 were admitted — an acceptance rate of 7.4 percent.

Before being considered by the Admissions Board at the Naval Academy, candidates must first complete several steps not included in the average college or university admissions process.

The first step includes filling out an application that requires transcripts, school records and taking college board exams several times, starting as a junior, according to Bruce Latta, dean of admissions at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Good candidates are students who are well-rounded in high school, who challenge themselves and do well academically by taking honors or Advanced Placement courses and are involved in activities such as athletics, student government and band or JROTC, Latta said.

“Students who are pushing themselves to juggle many things at once so that once they are here, they will be able to handle this type of environment and already be good at time management,” Latta said. “In high school, you might call that type of student an overachiever. Those are the types of candidates who typically do well here.” Additional steps to becoming accepted include passing a physical fitness test and providing medical background as well as receiving a congressional nomination.

Florida received three congressional nominations — one for the Naval Academy from Then-U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and two for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. One of those nominations was from Cassidy and the other from former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

“Applying is a very self-motivated process. You just have to figure it out. So many applicants don’t have the perseverance to make it through the process and they give up or let their nerves get the best of them,” Florida said.

Once Florida made it through the first steps, he had to go before a review board. He says it is the admissions board’s job to try to unnerve a candidate.

“I was a little nervous but not very much. This is what I want, what I’ve always dreamed of. They try to wear you down, break you down and weed out people. But I just told them that this is what I’ve always wanted and that if they didn’t accept me, I’d keep trying, go somewhere else, but that I would gain acceptance eventually,” Florida said.

Florida said he loves the discipline of military life, the “bare bones” basics, drills and ceremony, and it was his father who pushed him to go the officer route and apply for the Naval Academy.

“He is very excited and very proud,” Florida said of his father, Robert Florida Sr.

Students who attend the Naval Academy are considered officers-in-training and referred to as midshipmen.

Upon graduation from the Naval Academy, Florida will have earned a bachelor of science degree and be a commissioned ensign in the Navy or a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, depending upon which route he chooses to pursue.

“I’m the kind of person who once I accomplish a goal, I don’t stay excited about it for very long, I’m always looking for another goal or what I can accomplish next,” Florida said.

One of Florida’s goals was to enlist in and complete Camp Spehar’s Special Warfare Challenge, a seven-day boot camp that teaches course navigation, discipline, teamwork, leadership skills, core values, nutrition, running development, water competency, mental toughness and special operations history.

Aspiring teens receive personal instruction and are mentored by five veterans and active duty special operators. “I asked myself every day while I was there if this was what I really wanted to be doing. I had to assess if I was truly sincere about this goal,” Florida said. “At times, I was miserable, cold and wet, being pushed to the limit. Camp Spehar convinced me that I was doing the right thing. I hated it at times, but I also loved it.”

Florida said military life is not about the prestige for him. “I really love my country, and this is a dream come true.”

Florida graduated from the Camp Spehar challenge Jan. 2.

He is the son of Sharon and Robert Florida Sr., of Zachary.