#AFAN (Air Force/Army/Navy) stories: My series is about more than academy football players. These stories are about future officers selflessly committed to serving their country during a seemingly endless war on terrorism. There are only 0.5 percent Americans making up the military. Throughout our history Cadets and Midshipmen have answered the call to serve in times of war, but this is a generation of volunteers.
“I get to work daily with heroes that joined the military AFTER we were attacked on 9/11, AFTER the war started in Afghanistan and AFTER the war started in Iraq. I would like to think I’m that brave, but I’m not so sure."
-- Phil McConkey, 1979 Navy grad and New York Giants Super Bowl champion
By TOM SHANHAN
Usually, there is nothing more important to Army football than Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy game against Air Force or Navy. This year is an exception in the 127 seasons of West Point football.
“This is definitely one we want to win for the CiC, but more important than that is to get our season back on track,” said senior wide receiver Cam Harrison. “It’s definitely our biggest game of the year so far.”
They go hand-in-hand this week. Army needs any kind of win to get back on track, but this happens to be the week the Black Knights (3-5) try to shake a four-game losing streak when they play Air Force (6-2) on Saturday in Colorado Springs.
As for Air Force, with Navy having already defeated the Falcons four weeks ago, it needs a victory over Army to salvage a split in the round-robin CiC series. An Army wins sets up a showdown for a winner-take-all Army-Navy Game on Dec. 14 in Philadelphia.
But even if Army loses to Air Force, it can beat Navy to retain the trophy for another year until one the academies produces a two-game sweep.
Something to remember the second leg of the CiC series is played the shadow of the Army-Navy Game, with the final weekend of the college football regular season reserved for its history and pageantry, but the Army and Navy players agree the Air Force contest is equally competitive.
“We always know a CiC game will be tough,” Harrison said. “It’s always a very physical game going head to head.”
Harrison, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, speaks first hand of past CiC games – Army has won five in a row, with the last three against Navy and two over Air Force – but this season his playing a bigger role.
Army is a stronger threat to throw the ball with quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, although the senior that was the first Army QB to run for 1,000 and pass for 1,000 in a season has been slowed by injuries. He was hurt in preseason warm-ups at Michigan.
In last week’s loss to San Jose State, Harrison pulled in a 31-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-16 pass from Hopkins. He finished with four catches for 54 yards; he has 15 balls in the last four games to lead the team with 16 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
For his senior year, Harrison worked on his blocking, which is a priority over pass-catching ability in a triple-option offense, in addition to gaining weight.
“Putting on weight has helped me to be more physical,” he said, “and to stay on my blocks longer.”
As a receiver, he worked on hand-strength. Army often faces more highly recruited defensive backs, so gaining separation doesn’t come easily.
“I did a lot of grip strength work,” he said. “Most of the time when I get the ball it’s going to be contested. Having strong hands is important.”
Getting the season back on with a CiC win also is a necessary step for Army toward gaining bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year.
“Nobody feels good about where we're at,” said head coach Jeff Monken. “We're disappointed, frustrated and ticked off. Our kids are playing hard. It's not for a lack of effort, that's for sure. It's a lack of execution.
“Football is blocking and tackling, and it's getting off blocks and running through tackles. That's always been football and that's what it will always be. We have to do a better job of that. There are other parts to the game, like covering receivers and running routes, but collectively we have to do a better job all-around of executing
The Black Knights have to win seven games, rather than six. Army already has a win over one Football Championship Subdivision member, Morgan State, and it can only count one FCS opponent among six victories. One of the Black Knights remaining games is against VMI, an FBC member.
Army has five contests remaining – playing at Hawaii permits a 13-game schedule – with Air Force and Navy already bowl eligible. After Air Force, Army is at home against Massachusetts (1-7) and home against VMI (4-4). After a bye week they travel to Hawaii (5-3) and then have two weeks off before facing Navy (6-1).
“What I’d tell the fans is to hang in there and believe,” Harrison said. “We all believe here. No one has doubts we can’t get a W. Stay engaged and have faith. We all do.”
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”