Despite wins, Falcons not outrecruiting Mids

Each year Army, Navy, and Air Force square off on the field in the battle of the Commander-in-Chief's trophy. But as seasons change and the offseason begins, their rivalries move beyond the gridirons of Annapolis or Colorado Springs and take to high schools across the country. In the pursuit to reload their talent pool, the service academy recruiting battles are ongoing and hardly ever one-sided.

"Our battles with the other two service academies seem to be the same this year," was how Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo described his team's efforts on the recruiting trail against Air Force and Army.

"Obviously we lost to Air Force this year, but it seems it hasn't hindered us," he added. Navy has now lost to Air Force two seasons in a row after winning the previous seven matchups.

While recruiting services like Scouts Inc. and will routinely "rank" classes of signed recruits – including those from the three academies – the story of service academy recruiting and where each team stands in relation to each other is complex and hardly clear-cut.

Traditional thinking has been that Army, Navy, and Air Force typically offer scholarships to all the same recruits, highlighting their academic and military components to the small selection of high school football players who are both able and willing to meet the demands asked of them off the football field. According to Navy recruiting coordinator Dale Pehrson, the thinking has held true for the most part, albeit with some caveats. Overlap in scholarships offered by the service academies is inevitable, Pehrson pointed out, but regional "spheres" and unique factors to each academy (such as the coach-player relationship) will sometimes isolate a recruit's interest to a single academy.

"It kind of depends on the area for who you're ‘mostly' going against, but most of the academies will be involved somewhat in all three places," said Pehrson, who referenced the East, Midwest, and West as distinctive "spheres" of recruiting.

"A lot of kids will either be sold on one, two (academies)…they'll rarely be sold on all three academies," he continued. "There's something they'll like about this one or that one, but they will probably have offers from all three."

While it's true the Army, Navy, and Air Force do target many of the same recruits, it's a myth to assume recruits differentiate between the schools based only on their wins and losses against each other. According to both Niumatalolo and Pehrson, a recruit's "feel" for each Academy often plays a much more defining role in which service academy he may choose to attend.

"Sometimes it will come down to who's winning or who went to a bowl or that kind of thing, but a lot of the time it just comes down to the kid feeling more comfortable at one or the other," said Pehrson, who asserted that recruiting against Air Force in particular "hasn't actually changed a ton over the years."

"If you look at all three academies, they all offer tremendous benefits," he continued. "They're all wonderful schools, but a kid might feel more comfortable here than at Army, or Army more than Air Force. That comes into play probably more than anything else."

One recruit from the class of 2012 who currently holds offers from both Navy and Air Force told his preference for Navy has less to do with wins and losses and more to do with location and comfort level.

"I want my parents to be able to come to see me play," said the recruit, who plays his high school ball in North Carolina. "They can come see me play in Maryland but it would be hard to see me play in Colorado. So the distance is one of the things."

Also giving the Mids a boost over the Falcons in the recruit's mind? His relationship with his recruiter from Navy, North Carolina native and Midshipmen defensive coordinator Buddy Green.

"Just with coach Green and my relationship with him, it just means more to me," he said. "I mean, I know the coaches at Air Force, but it's not like the relationship I have with coach Green."

Green, ironically, interviewed for the vacant defensive coordinator position at the University of Tennessee on Thursday, although reportedly remains Navy's defensive coordinator as of Thursday evening.

Such a case is just one example amidst this year's race to reload for Navy and Air Force. As for which academy is winning that race currently, it's impossible to say. But if recent history is any indicator, Niumatalolo thinks the two military academy powers are likely to come out of the offseason in a stalemate.

"Since we started to win back in 2003 I think it's pretty much held constant. They'll beat us on some, we'll beat them on some."

No wonder, I guess you could say, that the Navy-Air Force rivalry remains one of the most competitive games each season.

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