These are and have been Boss Ross's buzzwords since he came to the banks of the Hudson. It's straight out of Bear Bryant's playbook: 22 men (and the dozens of reserves backing them up on both sides of the ball), working together, spilling their guts, believing beyond the normal thresholds of belief, fighting like hell, and simply wanting the dadgum victory more than any opponent.
In a sport driven by emotion--and volatile enough that early-season September showdowns are often indeed decided by mental toughness more than any raw chalkboard element--the old-time religion is worth preaching, because it delivers a surprisingly significant level of achievement, at least at the beginning of the season, before considerations of talent, depth and health begin to enter into the equation. In September, you can steal wins simply by being more confident, more resilient, and more airtight with respect to avoiding mistakes (not making big plays, just avoiding the bad stuff, a testament to mental might).
The Black Knights, then, have the worst possible opponent in their season opener, as they try to cultivate the old-fashioned, time-tested football virtues Boss Ross wants them to absorb.
Or then again, maybe the Brave Old Army Team has the best possible adversary for a lid-lifter.
No, it's not necessarily the Louisville team. It's their quarterback, Stefan Lefors.
When you look at his white uniform with the red numbers trimmed ever so slightly in red and black, you'd swear that Lefors' number 17 should be an "8," and that the back of his jersey should read "Y-O-U-N-G."
Yeah, the resemblance is that scary.
Left-handed, a scrambler, riverboat gambler, broken-play maker, artful faker, linebacker's soul, very much in control--Stefan Lefors brings the same kinds of qualities Steve Young brought to the San Francisco 49ers.
The guy racks up huge numbers and leads a prolific Louisville offense, but just in case you think he's all show and no heart, he gamely battled a wrist injury throughout last December's GMAC Bowl against Ben Roethlisberger and Miami-Ohio. Down 21 against a Miami team that was absolutely destroying Louisville's sieve-like pass defense (Army will want to exploit that on Sept. 11, but that's another story for another day), Lefors gathered his mates and brought the Cards within 7 points, largely on fumes. While a weak-wristed out pass (the worst kind of pass to throw with an injured arm) was picked off for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, ending Louisville's hopes of victory, the mere fact that Lefors even managed to bring Louisville within shouting distance (let alone merely continuing to play with an injury to the very part of the body that a quarterback must have in order to function well) served as testament to the fact that his enormous flair and playmaking ability are supplemented by more than a little grit and gumption.
This is the player Army will face in its curtain-raiser, and boy, Lefors is looking to raise some hell once the contest kicks off. Playing Stefan Lefors, right out of the gate, will be the perfect challenge for a team that needs to gain the virtues Bobby Ross has talked about recently.
Preparation? You have to prepare considerably for a devastating playmaking quarterback.
Effort? You better be ready to do a whole lotta chasing for 60 minutes, beyond the bounds of what you normally have to do to contain most quarterbacks. Stefan Lefors isn't "most quarterbacks."
Confidence? Seeing Lefors on game film can't exactly make Bobby Ross and John Mumford comfortable; how much more difficult will it be for the Army defense itself--up and down the line--to feel they can stop this guy, let alone contain him?
Toughness? Brute strength and an effective pass rush won't be enough, because Lefors is a broken-play artist of the highest order. Toughness will have to come from within, not just via the weight room.
Commitment? Geez, "commitment" might mean that after playing Louisville and Lefors, the whole Army defense will indeed be committed.... right to a counseling session or something. Army's defensive troops might find that for all they heard from Ross about commitment in the offseason, such talk--and right now, it is only talk--might not amount to a hill of beans against a quarterback of Stefan Lefors' caliber. Against this Louisville lefty, good enough won't be good enough.
That's a daunting and imposing reality, one which doesn't create a lot of comfort.
Then again, "comfort" is what happens when losing is accepted, and that's precisely what has to change with Army Football. There is never anything comfortable about building up a football program in its totality--physically, emotionally, strategically, mentally--from a pigskin version of ground zero that was witnessed last year. Therefore, Stefan Lefors offers the perfect adversary--and perfect teacher--of all the football values Bobby Ross is so keen on instilling into his players.
Preparation. Toughness. Effort. Confidence. Commitment.
These values will be stretched to the limit by Stefan Lefors. How Army tackles Louisville's leader--and how the Black Knights use their season opener as a learning experience--will have more than a little to do with how the 2004 season shapes up in Bobby Ross' opening act at West Point.