By the end of the Black & Gold spring game the staff was pleasantly surprised and really encouraged by the line's performance. There is more reason for optimism when looking at this year's offensive line recruits. The prep school offensive line class was one of the most highly regarded in recent memory. They lived by head coach's Tom Simi offensive line motto of "Low, mean and fast".
The United States Military Academy Prep School produced a number of very talented and productive players last year. While most fans tend to be interested in the skill positions the best player last year at the prep school was center Ryan Powis. Powis, who played his high school football at James River High School in Virginia, was voted top lineman of the year by the coaches last season. He was both an offensive guard and tackle and a defensive lineman at James River. Ryan earned first team all-district honors in his senior year after being named to second team all-district his junior season. Powis was also an accomplished wrestler and was one of the best heavyweight wrestlers in the state. He won district and regional heavyweight championships and finished second in the state his senior year.
Powis was moved from his high school tackle spot to center at USMAPS. He adapted immediately and had a phenomenal year. Powis was the lynch pin of an excellent offensive line for the USMAPS offense that averaged 36.5 points per game. He missed the Valley Forge game because of an injury but was the highest graded offensive lineman in every other game. Powis is 6-1, 265 pounds and is very quick and explosive for his size. Like most wrestlers he has very good balance, is flexible and can bend his knees. This is a key to success for a triple option lineman since they have to be flexible, have the ability to bend and play with their pads forward in an almost horizontal line. Physically Powis is explosive and very strong off the snap. Ryan is tough, competitive, has the orneriness of a pit bull and brings a defensive lineman personality to the offensive side of the ball. Powis chose Army over interest from Navy, VMI, Liberty, James Madison and Virginia Tech. He has a chance to be the best Army center since Pete Bier. I expect him to be the backup as a plebe.
Last year's offensive tackles at the prep school Hickel and Bickel sound like an old cartoon about a couple of crows. Their performance on the field however was no laughing matter as both impressed. Tom Hickel was the far better known recruit in 2010. Hickel played his high school ball at De La Salle in Concord, California. De La Salle is one of the most prestigious high school football programs in the nation. The school established the national record of 151 consecutive wins, produced NFL talent and has won 12 California state championships. Hickel's team won the California state title his senior year as he was named first team All-East Bay. Scout.com's All-Golden State forum named Hickel first team all-state his senior year.
Hickel who stands 6-3 and weighs 260 pounds entered his prep year as a polished, technically sound player as a result of having played at De LaSalle. He easily picked up the new blocking techniques for playing in an option offense that were taught to him. Hickel, after Powis, was the second best lineman on the team. He had a great game against Milford Academy helping the Army prep offense put up 54 points in the win over the prep powerhouse. Tom executed a nice block against FDU JV to spring fullback Larry Dixon for a 71-yard touchdown run. Against Steven Tech he pancaked a defensive lineman and Dixon scored a touchdown through the huge hole. In the finale against Navy prep Hickel was injured in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game. Without Hickel, Army prep struggled blocking Navy's prep's big athletic defensive front.
Hickel is a physical, hardworking and very mobile athlete who gets off the snap quickly and is a fine technician. Hickel had a number of college options but chose West Point because it was Tom's dream to serve his country. He chose Army over Navy, Air Force and Sacramento State. In addition, Cal Poly, UC Davis and Pac-10 schools like Stanford, Cal and Washington had expressed interest. Hickel played tackle most of his career but might be a better fit at guard on the FBS level.
Unlike Hickel the other offensive tackle, Rob Bickel, was an under the radar recruit. In high school Bickel played weak side defensive end for Parish Episcopal school in Dallas, Texas. At 6-4, 230 pounds with five flat forty yard dash speed and a thin frame, FBS recruiters weren't exactly knocking down his door with scholarship offers. The Army staff was the only one to offer the all district player an opportunity to play FBS ball. Bickel made the most of it after he was moved to offensive line at USMAPS. Bickel worked extremely hard to learn the position. Rob is an all-out, maximum effort player. It was common to see him getting out of the blocks and running all over the field laying players out with perfect cut blocks. Bickel is tough, plays hard and is very physical but needs to spent time in strength coach Brett Gerch's weight room to fill out his frame if he wants to eventually win a starting spot.
Stephen Shumaker played left guard last year at United States Military Academy Prep School. The six foot, 280 pound Milford, Connecticut native was a key two-way lineman who helped the 2009 Notre Dame of West Haven football team to the Class L championship and the state's top-ranking. Shumaker, like many Ellerson recruits, was also a talented track and field athlete. A two-year varsity starter who earned all-state status in the shot put as a junior following the spring 2009 track season, Shumaker won a second state championship in 2010 helping lead Notre Dame to the 2009-2010 Class L Indoor Track title. Shumaker finished second with a throw of 52'3.25", which established a new school record, in the Class L Meet.
Like most successful shot putters Shumaker is explosive and surprisingly quick. Shumaker was the fastest of all the linemen at USMAPS in firing off the ball. Stephen has a short, fire hydrant type build that belies his athleticism. He is very strong, tenacious and competitive mauler. Among the offensive lineman he probably needs to improve his technique and become more consistent. While Shumaker can play guard in an option offense at the FBS level he is also athletic enough, in my opinion, to move to defense and play nose guard if the staff needs him there.
Todd McDonald was a walk on at USMAPS who won the starting right guard job. McDonald was an undersized (5-11, 253 pound) center who received little recruiting interest despite being an All-Star performer for Esperanza high school in California. At the prep school McDonald was moved to guard and proved to be a great technician who understands blocking angles and position. McDonald moves fairly well and showed some quickness and pop off the snap. McDonald is a fighter with a mean streak who gets after his opponents and he played well last season. Todd is very strong through his core but is short and undersized even by Army standards. McDonald will have to prove he is big enough to compete at this level.
Austin Gorge was the main backup at USMAPS last season. Gorge is a 6-4, 270 pound lineman from Fishers, Indiana. In his senior year Gorge was named to the 2009 AP Indiana high school All-State team and played in the Region 8 All-Star game for the South. He also made the Academic All-State team. When Powis was injured and missed the Valley Forge game, Todd McDonald moved to center and Gorge started at right guard. George played well in the victory. He also played extensively against Navy prep after Tom Hickel was injured. Gorge has above average size and has decent movement skills but he isn't that quick in getting off the snap and to the second level in this offense.
The Black Knights had four direct admit offensive linemen take the oath on R day. One of those players is David Evans a 6-3, 260 pound offensive tackle from New York. Evans was one of the first players to commit this recruiting season. He was a four year starter at Sauquoit Valley High School in New York. Evans is a powerful player who saw time on both sides of the ball. David said, "I always wanted to serve in the military, and my heart was set on Army from the beginning." Evans only official offer was from Army but do not pigeonhole him as the type of recruit that signs with Army because it's his only option to play FBS ball. Evans committed early to Army and would have received more offers but he made it clear that his goal was to attend West Point.
Fellow New York native Bill Allen shares the same sentiment as Evans. Allen is a 6-1, 260 pound offensive lineman from Garden City, N.Y. After visiting West Point Allen knew it was the place for him. Allen said he had three goals in life. "Get a great education, serve my country and play college football." Allen started living his dream on R-day.
Nick Bennett was another physical guard with good size who committed early after being offered. Bennett attended Eastern high school in Kentucky. Nick was awarded the Anthony Munoz Foundation lineman of the year award for Kentucky high school linemen his senior year. Bennett is 6-1, 270 pounds. He is strong with good flexibility, balance and quickness. He has the athleticism to get to the second level which is necessary in an option offense. Bennett, like Evans, was a strong Army commit so the Black Knights were his only official offer. Bennett did receive interest from Navy, Bowling Green, Marshall, Western Kentucky, Murray State and several Ivy League schools.
Ryan Gibeley from North Andover, Massachusetts is the son of a Naval Academy graduate. Gibeley is a 6-0, 250 pound two-way lineman. Gibeley was recruited to West Point despite not having played a down last fall. Gibeley missed the year after breaking his leg just before season started. When healthy Ryan is mobile, athletic and moves well. He was recruited by a number of Ivy league programs who backed away after he was hurt.
Next: A look at the incoming Defensive, Nose and Bandit Tackles.