Youth is Served at Army

Most Army fans entered this season basking in the glow of the football team's first winning season in 14 years. Once spring practice started trepidation began to set in as fans saw that there were few seniors projected to be starters and little size along the defensive front. Service academy teams usually tend to be dominated by seniors especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

This issue came about because Stan Brock's recruiting classes suffered tremendous attrition. In 2008 Brock chose to send most of his recruits to the prep school. This prep class formed the nucleus of the talented junior class featuring current players like Trent Steelman, Malcolm Brown, the Mackey brothers and Josh Jackson but limited the number of seniors in this year's class. There are currently only five senior starters and one of those is replacing an injured junior starter. The lack of size was furthered hindered when Ellerson himself lost his top three defensive line recruits expected to join the program in 2010. Still initially optimism ruled the day as Army prepared for its home opener. The worst fears of Army fans were realized when the Army defense was dismantled in the opener by Northern Illinois. The defensive line which struggled all game received a major blow when their best player Jarrett Mackey when down with a serious knee injury. To add salt to the wound, the other starting defensive end Clayton Keller was also injured.

Rich Ellerson and his staff went back to work and coached up their young starters, replaced a few, and injected more youth into the depth chart. With San Diego State's explosive offense and Northwestern power running game coming to Michie it looked like things could get ugly. Against San Diego State the team quickly fell behind 14-0 and the groans from the Army faithful were audible through Michie Stadium. The young starters found their bearings and battled back before turnovers caused them to suffer a disappointing loss. Last week the Black Knights started to click as a group making fewer mistakes in beating Northwestern from the Big Ten conference, 21-14. The arrow is pointing up and there is once again reason for optimism among Black Knight fans. The youth of this team is apparent as 27 players have made their first appearance in an Army uniform this year.

A total of 26 freshman and sophomores appear on the Army depth chart with eight currently starting. On offense this new infusion of talent is especially evident at the skill positions. At wide receiver the sophomore duo of Jared McFarlin and Anthony Stephens has replaced last year's slower senior starting combo of Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr. McFarlin (6 catches, 60 yds. 1 TD) has dropped a few passes but he is a 6-foot-5 talent with good speed. McFarlin has the size and athleticism comparable to former Army star wide receiver Aaron Alexander. Anthony Stephens (1 catch, 24 yds.) is a smooth route runner with sure hands. Stephens was able to get behind the Northwestern defense twice last Saturday but Steelman didn't connect with him. Freshman Chevaughn Lawrence (1 catch, 9 yds.) has started to see more playing time. The physical freshman was the most talented wide receiver last year on the United States Military Academy Prep School team. Lawrence made two keys blocks which helped give Malcolm Brown the corner on his two longest runs against Northwestern.

Sophomores Raymond Maples (157 yards, 4.9 avg.) and Jon Crucitti (83 yards, 5.9 avg.) have teamed up at A-back and have provided effective blocking and physical running. Maples flashed the run skills he demonstrated at USMAPS in 2009 last week against Northwestern when he ran for a career high 95 yards. Crucitti is a jack-of-all trades who is the most versatile athlete on the roster.

Freshman C-back Trenton Turrentine (98 yds., 4.7 avg. 1 TD) and fullback Larry Dixon (46 yds., 3.1 avg.) had some issues with ball security early but both demonstrated the run skills and physical play they provided last year at USMAPS. Turrentine finishes his runs by attacking defenders. He's a strong downhill runner with good speed who runs hard once his shoulders are squared. Trenton doesn't possess the best natural hands and has dropped two pitches this year. He needs to work on that part of his game. Dixon fumbled twice against San Diego State which was completely out of character for him. Larry, who was named USMAPS offensive MVP last year, has a tremendously powerful lower body and is a natural runner with a low center of gravity. He has exceptional balance, is extremely physical and is very difficult for one man to tackle. Once he settles in he should be a very productive back.

On defense the youth movement is even more apparent. Sophomore defensive end Corey Watts (8 tackles, 1 sack) has played well creating pressure and always bringing his high intensity, all-out effort to the table. Sophomore Holt Zalneraitis (4 tackles) has started all three games at bandit tackle and has improved every start. Justin Trimble (10 tackles, 2 passes defensed) continues the family tradition of productive Army football players. Since taking over at Mike linebacker for fellow sophomore Reggie Nesbitt after the opener he has stabilized the defense.

In the secondary plebe Hayden Pierce (15 tackles) has started every game at strong safety. He diagnoses plays extremely well and has a natural feel for the game. Pierce is also very athletic which he demonstrated against the Aztecs when he tackled super star running back Ronnie Hillman in the open field one-on-one short of a first down. Lamar Johnson-Harris has emerged as the starting cornerback. Lamar has experienced some growing pains his first two starts but has played better than junior Waverly Washington did in the opener. Safety is loaded with three more sophomores. Tyler Dickson (16 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed) is the starting free safety. He had a rough debut but played well the last two weeks. Dickson was the defensive MVP at USMAPS in 2009. Backup safety Thomas Holloway (11 tackles) always seems to be around the ball. Lyle Beloney (2 tackles) has 4.48 speed and good range backing up at SAM safety.

Rich Ellerson also rewards players who he originally assigned to the B-squad if they perform in games. Scotty Williams, a slotback- return specialist, played fairly well this spring but was thought to be too small and more quick than fast. He was assigned to the JV or B team. In the JV opener against USMAPS he played very well returning kicks and at scoring a rushing touchdown at slotback. After a below average performance returning kickoffs against Northern Illinois, Ellerson promoted Williams to the varsity and assigned him to kickoff returns against San Diego State. Scott has shown good hands and vision. He had a key 17-yard run as a slotback late against Northwestern and has been an improvement on kickoff returns. In the same JV game, defensive tackle Rich Glover played well against USMAPS and recorded a sack. He was moved to second string and played a few defensive series against Northwestern.

The great news for Army fans that there is more talent in the pipeline that has seen limited playing time or hasn't see the field, especially in the plebe class, but has a chance to develop. Youth is being served at Army and right now they're making an impact.


- Talented quick end Jarrett Mackey will probably not play again this season after injuring his knee against Northern Illinois in the opener.

-Backup junior fullback Dan McGue left the team a few weeks ago. A few fans inquired what happened. McGue was one the most improved players during spring practice but lost his backup spot to the talented plebe Larry Dixon and decided to leave the team. He's still at West Point.

-Army landed its second commitment of the recruiting season when safety Cedrik Bell a 6-0, 185 pound safety from Indiana was accepted academically. He is being recruited by Joe Ross. Top Stories