Recruiting for football can be a tough sell at West Point

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) – Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw possible gained’t neglect the second he was provided a likelihood to play football at West Point.

It occurred throughout Bradshaw’s junior yr in highschool on Chicago’s South Side when Army assistant coach Tucker Waugh stopped by.

“My head coach took me out of the classroom and launched me to educate Waugh,” Bradshaw recalled. “I said, ‘Thank you, sir (for the offer).’ Then I kind of whispered to my coach, ‘What’s West Point?’ That was the first time I heard of it.”

In this point in time, that’s the norm.

Army coach Jeff Monken mentioned most of his gamers had by no means heard of West Point when he first recruited them.

“We have a few on our team where this is where they always wanted to go, but very few. I would say it’s likely the same at (Navy),” he mentioned.

Welcome to the world of recruiting for football at a service academy, the place coaches are tasked with asking potential gamers for a dedication like no different – ceding the liberty that youngsters relish, taking part in for 4 years at an unfamiliar college then serving a stint within the armed forces, just about relinquishing any desires of taking part in professionally.

“This is a great place if you can break through the military piece because that’s where they get hung up,” mentioned Monken, who additionally was an assistant at Navy beneath Paul Johnson. “I’m not a army man. I don’t know if the army’s for me, and that’s all the time going to be a problem.

“Ultimately, it’s what retains us from having the ability to signal a lot of the fellows that we go after, and that’s the identical at Navy as nicely.”

Monken, in his fourth season at Army, thinks the three service academies face probably the most tough recruiting challenges in America, partially as a result of they recruit nationally (Army has gamers from 29 states on its 2017 roster, Navy has gamers from 32 states and Air Force 21).

Global politics definitely add a dimension not seen at different faculties.

“Moms and dads are nervous about their sons coming to the Army and going into floor fight, and I perceive that and respect that,” mentioned West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., who performed heart for the Black Knights within the 1970s. “I had a son who went to Iraq and it was really hard for my wife. She started crying, so I do understand.”

Waugh and a dozen different coaches divide the nation into 13 sections and the preliminary variety of prospects can attain as many as Eight,000. Not surprisingly, Army chases a lot of the identical gamers as Navy and Air Force.

“They’re fighting for the same things that I’m fighting for. We’ve all lost players to each other over the years,” Waugh mentioned.

Army football is steeped in custom. It was the AP nationwide champion in 1944 and 1945 and boasts three Heisman Trophy winners – Doc Blanchard in 1945, Glenn Davis in 1946 and Pete Dawkins in 1958. All performed throughout the academy’s heyday beneath Hall of Fame coach Earl “Red” Blaik, who retired after his 1958 squad completed Eight-Zero-1.

The Black Knights remained a winner till the Vietnam War period, however success has been fleeting since.

Caslen, who performed on the 1973 Army workforce that completed Zero-10, was recruited by each Army and Navy and says he received an earful of the identical recommendation at his highschool in northern Vermont.

“All of my teachers did not go to Vietnam – they found a way not to go – and every single one of them was trying to talk me into going to Navy,” Caslen mentioned. “They mentioned, ‘Don’t go to West Point. You’re going to go within the Army and be a child killer. Go to Navy the place you’ll be safer on a boat.’ That’s what they mentioned. I’m positive that’s what a few of these youngsters who’re additionally being recruited to Navy and Air Force are being informed as nicely, however that’s OK.”

Since the flip of this century, Navy and Air Force have dominated the Black Knights within the rivalry among the many three academies. Army is Four-30 in opposition to its archrivals and earlier than final yr’s victory over the Midshipmen had misplaced 14 straight to Navy. The Knights watched as Navy and Air Force repeatedly performed within the postseason.

That the U.S. Army has been concerned in army actions in and across the Middle East in every of the previous 16 years has an impact on that lackluster efficiency, in line with former Army star Alejandro Villaneuva. Now a fixture on the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he’s one of many few Black Knights to play within the NFL.

“There’s a correlation between us being at war and us losing, there really is,” mentioned Villaneuva, who served three excursions of obligation in Afghanistan and gained a Bronze Star Medal for Valor. “If you’re in 2006, would you need to go to Army understanding you’re 100 p.c going to be put at the entrance strains? Or would you moderately go to the Naval Academy … (the place) the probabilities of you going to precise fight are very restricted and simply prevented?

“As a recruit, it influences you a lot,” Villanueva mentioned. “I think – and I’m sure – if there’s a player deciding between going to the academies, it’s something that the Naval Academy can sell, the Air Force Academy can sell even more.”

One factor has modified since Villanueva graduated in 2010: Monken has guided Army (Eight-Three) to consecutive profitable seasons for the primary time since Young’s final two years (1989-90). After the Black Knights play Navy on Saturday, they’ll then chase a second straight bowl victory, too.

“We’ve been pretty successful the past couple of years,” Waugh mentioned. “The highschool football gamers on the market are beginning to understand increasingly who we’re.”


AP sports activities writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.


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