The first day of spring practice for three of Army's offensive football players was quite a bit different than this time last year.
In February of 2010, 6-foot-4, 275-pound sophomore Frank Allen was out to win a job on a veteran offensive line. He did, and would start every game.
On Wednesday he went through workouts as the only returning starter on that unit. The rest of the O-Line candidates kept an eye on No. 79 like young cats observing the hunting skills of a lion.
For Anthony Stephens, this time last year he was in his final semester of high school, nice and warm in South Carolina. He did not catch one pass during his freshman season at West Point, but No. 2 is ready and confident to have an impact with an already talented returning crop of receivers.
As for quarterback Trent Steelman, who will start his third straight season at the position, spring practice for him started with his left arm in a sling following shoulder surgery in early January.
Each took a moment with us to discuss their thoughts on the upcoming season, both individually and for their team.
Twice separating his shoulder last season, he suffered a torn labrum. Although he hopes to have the sling removed on Saturday, the recovery period lasts from four to six months. The training staff has been working on his rehab and range of motion, prompting the 21-year-old to say, "I'll definitely be ready to go next season, that's for sure.''
Asked about how the Black Knights will maintain the success they had this past season, he answered by saying the Black Knights have to find a way to go above maintaining.
"We have to take our play to the next level and I honestly feel we have a very talented group of people that are willing to bring us to that next level. It's going to be fun to see what they can do once they get the pads on. Offensively, up front we have more talent than we did last year. The size of the guys is a little bit better and they move pretty well, too.
"Last season our experience would have given us a great edge going into the off-season and into the season. But coming into this season I think we know what it takes to be good - not to be good - but to be great, and really establish ourselves as a program and that people know what we're about and they know we're about winning.''
The upcoming junior, who turned 21 today, will be asked to step up to be a leader, if only on the line, but isn't sure exactly how he will approach that. "I'm not sure where I fit in yet,'' he said about his overall leadership on the team. "Last year was (senior linemen) Zach Peterson, Jason Johnson and those kinds of guys. I'm not sure how much my knowledge will be worth.
"I'm fine with it,'' he quickly added. "It doesn't bother me or anything. I just have to see how it's going to fall out. Do I want to take an aggressive or passive approach? I'm not really one of those shouting guys. I'm more like, 'Here: This is what you gotta' do so do it.'''
He feels the skill positions are going to carry the offense, if based only on the fact that four new linemen are going to have to step into starting roles.
"That's going to be a big thing, to see if we can get the right guys in there, if we can get the size in there, the speed and the talent in there. So this off-season is really going to impact how that goes. We do have a lot of guys.''
The spring roster includes 24 candidates, including USMAPS grads.
Among them are seniors Joe Bailey, Mike McDermott and Brad Kelly, juniors Derek Bisgard and Will Wilson, and sophomore Colin Joy.
A hamstring pull kept him out of the bowl game, certainly an experience he would have loved to have. But, he noted, "We won, so it wasn't as bad.''
He was not displeased with his freshman season, saying that he did not feel he went backwards at any time. A walk-on, in one year he's gone from not even knowing if he would make the team, to now having been in the system a year and ready to contribute.
"It's been a wild year I guess,'' he said with a smile. "I thought I did a pretty good job picking up the offense, but I'll definitely do better this year.''
His freshman year was comprised of nine games, the majority of which were on special teams.
This year could be something special, on a team with a lot of young players vying for time.
"Last year we were trying to get over the hump,'' he said about the Black Knights, although he could include himself in that statement. "Now we're over the hump and all we have to do is turn it up.''
Defensive back Kyler Martin and running back Brian Cobbs have been excused from weekend workouts to travel with the indoor track team. Martin is entered in the hurdles and Cobbs in sprints as Army competes for the Patriot League championships at Navy
Meanwhile, slotback Jonathan Crucitti will spend the spring season on the Army baseball team.
The outfielder will be in North Carolina this weekend to open the season at Davidson, which is just 35 miles from his home in Salisbury, N.C.
The Black Knights, favored to win the Patriot League title for a fourth consecutive year, open with Radford Friday, have a doubleheader Saturday against Davidson and Radford, then on Sunday face Georgetown.
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