Army's Dace could make impact

Tony Dace spent his three-year career at Fort Walton Beach High (Fla.) as a back-up running back. He never started a game and averaged about 40 carries per year. So where does Dace get off thinking he can make a run at Army's starting running back job this fall?

Enter Fort Walton High coach Mike Owens. Owens makes a case for Dace, and for starters, he thinks he could have been a 1,000-yard rusher back in high school.

So what was Dace doing on the bench? He played behind one of the best high school running backs in the country: Glen Coffee.

Coffee is Fort Walton's all-time leading rusher and put up 1,886 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior. He was the University of Alabama's second-leading rusher as a freshman last fall. "If it wasn't for Glen, Tony would have been the starter," Owens says. "There is no shame in that. When we did get Tony out on the field to run the ball it seemed like he always made a play."

Dace started at Fort Walton for three years on the defensive side of the ball. His versatility allowed Owens to play him at cornerback, strong safety and even linebacker. He admits that Dace was often frustrated playing behind Coffee, but.....

"Tony has a lot of faith," Owens says. "He has confidence and works as hard as anyone to get the job done. Tony doesn't just say something he goes out and does it. He's not a wannabe." It's no wonder Dace served as Fort Walton's spiritual and emotional leader. He was interested in all three service academies, but the Black Knights pounced first. According to Owens, Army special teams coach Bruce Hardin called him to get an idea of the talent at Fort Walton.

Owens told him about Dace and some other players. A few days later Hardin was at Fort Walton High to watch Dace work out. Hardin liked him.

He isn't the only one.

Army coach Bobby Ross gave the 5-foot-6, 187 Dace a chance at running back during spring drills. Dace entered camp as one of seven inexperienced players competing for the starting running back job. The other candidates included freshmen Carlo Sandiego, Jamal Robinson, Jerry Jones and Wesley McMahand and juniors Rick Lay and Michael Herndon.

None of the candidates has had a carry in college.

"I'm real confident in myself," Dace says. "I feel like I can carry the load. I just have to prove myself. I have a lot more proving to do." Dace proved something to the demanding Ross and left the spring as one of the top contenders for the job. He led all rushers with 66 yards on 14 carries (4.7 per carry) during the annual Black/Gold game that concludes spring drills. Dace left Michie Stadium that rainy afternoon feeling pretty good about his play and chances at winning the job.

"I've always been confident in my game, I've been playing since I was seven years-old," Dace says. "I feel I can do it." Top Stories