ARMY – NAVY IS STILL A COLLEGE FOOTBALL CLASSIC

Al Thompson
Army Navy is always a battle regardless of outcome. Philly’s Jake Zuzek (64). Photo by Mike Corsey/michaelcorsey.com

For decades there has been the notion that “America’s team” are the Dallas Cowboys.

But let’s be real. In reality, “America’s Team” has always been – and always will be – the two words used to describe the Army or Navy football teams.

Once a year these two Division 1 programs rise from the status of mediocre or solid to join together and become one of the most iconic and watched sporting events in the country.

This year the score was lopsided; Navy won 34-7, winning its 12th straight against the Black Knights (3-9).

But the grandness of the game never dimmed, even as the game turned into garbage time in the fourth quarter.

For many players, if not most, it was this game that sold them to make the commitment to West Point or the Naval Academy.

“The one thing coach (Irvin) Jasper was talking about before the game to the offense was like…no matter how good or bad your season went before this game…this game makes or breaks your season,” said sophomore Keenan Reynolds, who broke the NCAA record for touchdowns by a quarterback for a season with 29. “You can be 11-0 and to lose this game, consider your season a failure.”

Reynolds, who many observers feel should be a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014, spoke about how Navy’s entire approach to practice changes as the Army game approaches.

“It’s our No. 1 goal every year, to beat Army” Reynolds said. “Right behind that is to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and then go to a Bowl game. As soon as Army week comes up…we call it ‘Army Camp’ …it is just three weeks of grinding. We don’t practice indoors, none of that. We go at it every day and try to prepare. We know these guys are going to play us tough. They play us tough every year. The played us tough today. I have tremendous respect for [Army]. Every time we play those guys you can throw the records out the window because it doesn’t matter. Those guys give up everything they have every snap.”
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After the game, held this year at Lincoln Financial Field, Army head coach Rich Ellerson acknowledged Navy is a better team right now, that the Midshipmen get better athletes, better football players.

“I thought we closed that gap the last two years, but that gap has opened back up,” said Ellerson, who was dismissed the day after the loss to Navy.

Ellerson said his coaches and players believe just the sheer energy and intensity that is the Army-Navy game can propel them to a higher level than they thought possible. But those same thoughts can backfire on you as Ellerson explained.

‘I do think we’re vulnerable to try and play out of our shoes and have one of those superhuman efforts because they knew they were playing a good football team,” said Ellerson, who compiled a 20-41 record in his five seasons as head coach of Army. “There are so many things about this game and rivalry that can seduce you into something other than just trying to be your best self. Whenever you do that, it gets away from you. I think the guys were reasonably on guard against that. They were competing well and trying to have some fun.”

Navy will play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Monday, Dec. 30 against Middle Tennessee State (8-4) at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

Navy offensive guard Jake Zuzek, a junior, who was a standout lineman at West Catholic High School and is a native of Aston, PA also talked about how important it was to keep the streak alive but staying focused on the task at hand.

“Coming into this game we really didn’t talk about it at all,” said Zuzek, listed at 6-feet-0, 310 pounds. “It was something we wanted to keep in the past and focus on this game. Being from here it’s pretty sweet. I have a lot of people here to watch me play. But for the brotherhood as a whole and for the school as a whole, keeping the streak alive was pretty good.”

Zuzek brought up some Navy legends when talking about what it is like to block for such an impact player as Reynolds.

“It’s fun because you have guys who came here like Ricky Dobbs (2008-10) and Roger Staubach (1962-64) and I’m sure those offensive lineman will never forget blocking for them…blocking for [Reynolds] is something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”

Zuzek also talk about how this game is larger than life.

“For us it’s the biggest game of the year,” Zuzek said. ”We set out goals at the beginning of the season. Our main goal is always to beat Army and beat Air Force. Just to play this game on the biggest stage is kind of like the sugar on top. Everything we do though is geared to beating Army and Air Force.”

Mission accomplished again.

21 Dec 13 - Army Navy Game, Football, Football Training, Home Show - Al Thompson - No Comments

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