1996 Army team took shape during spring

Former Army linebacker Ben Kotwica knew the 1996 team would be special near the end of spring drills. It didn't matter who the first-team defense went up against, first team offense, second team: The 'D' stopped them cold.

We were just stoning people," Kotwica remembers. "We felt real good."

On the other side of the ball, the offense felt confident, too. Even though they took their shots from Kotwica and the gang. The offense was a young group who learned a lot and improved by working with the veteran defense.

"Our confidence level was definitely up," says Ronnie McAda, Army's quarterback in 1996.

That spring a decade ago set the stage for one of Army's greatest seasons in the past 25 years. The Black Knights went 10-2 that fall and lost to Auburn 32-29 in the Independence Bowl. Army hasn't produced a winning season since the glorious run of '96.

Army's momentum began in 1995. A young Black Knight team went 5-5-1, playing a tough schedule, but could have easily been bowl-eligible. Army lost to Notre Dame 28-27, Duke 23-21, Washington 21-13 and East Carolina 31-25. "We knew we had the makings of a good team than that," McAda says. "and we knew our schedule in 1996 wouldn't be as difficult. We knew we could have a good team."

Army opened the '96 campaign 9-0, before losing 42-17 at Syracuse. The Black Knights beat rival Navy 28-24, ending the season with a near-miss against Auburn. Army coach Bob Sutton was named the Bobby Dodd national coach of the year.

McAda thinks this year's Army team has the same potential as the '95 squad. Like the '95 edition, the Black Knights have a tough schedule this fall. Opponents like Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Texas Christian University dot the schedule.

"I think if they can really build their confidence by playing those teams tough," McAda says. "That would build some confidence. It's just a matter of stepping up to the plate and doing it."

Extra Points

- Army will practice in pads for the first time on Friday after taking Thursday off

- Junior running back Ricky Lay scored on a 40-yard run

- Wide receiver Mike Wright caught a touchdown pass

- Coach Ross says the team is getting stronger on the lines and is well ahead of where they were last season

Army quarterback Ronnie McAda (7) scrambles against Navy. (AP Photo/ George Widman)

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