Army Spring Football Recap

Army Spring Football Recap

Army recently completed its spring drills with the annual Black & Gold game played at Fort Benning, Georgia. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler discusses the spring game, Army position moves and a recently hired assistant coach.

Note: All player's class designations reflects the academic class they will be in the fall.

The Army Black Knights concluded their football spring practice this week by taking their annual spring game on the road. Instead of the usual Black & Gold game at Michie Stadium, the Black Knights traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia last Friday. The squad was divided during the week into Armor and Infantry teams. Both teams wore uniforms designed by Nike for the occasion. The Armor team wore black jerseys with gold helmets. Their gold helmets featured the armor insignia, crossed sabers with a tank in the middle. The Infantry team wore gold jerseys with black helmets. The Infantry helmet displayed their insignia which is crossed rifles.

Zach Watts and Will Wilson captained the Armor team. The Armor team was comprised mostly of the first team defense and second team offense. The Infantry was captained by Frank Allen and James Whittington. The Infantry team contained the first team offense but its quarterback was plebe Gino DeBartolo. The Infantry's defense was mostly made up of the second unit defense.

Army head coach Rich Ellerson discussed his reason for the team's trip to Fort Benning at West Point before the flight to Georgia. "This game has become a bit of a show, we are going to play a game, that is problematic as you come down to the end of spring football, with a little bit of sprains and nicks and strains that are going to limit us somewhat. My intent was to give our guys that exposure, let them get around soldiers, let them get to a great post like Fort Benning, let them experience the Infantry Museum. It will be a brief snap shot, but a snap shot of the Big Army".

On Thursday the team arrived at the Fort Benning post and slept in the barracks. Early Friday morning the team witnessed a basic training graduation ceremony. Afterwards they visited the National Infantry Museum in Columbus before returning for the spring game. The game took place in front of a pumped up capacity crowd of 10,000 at Doughboy Stadium. The stadium was built in the 1920s to honor World War I veterans and has been recently renovated. The atmosphere was electric. U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno was there along with Major General Robert Brown and a number of Medal of Honor winners who were appropriately recognized in a pregame ceremony.

The game began with quarterback Angel Santiago leading the Armor's opening drive from the 25-yard-line. There were no kickoffs as the teams started from the 25-yard-line. After a first down, Santiago was sacked by sophomore Jacob Drodz to essentially blow up the opening drive. Drodz is now a "flex' player who has been used at whip linebacker this spring. Jacob played defensive tackle last year. The "flex" players can play at either whip linebacker or at bandit tackle with their hand on the ground. He's had a great spring and is an outstanding athlete which he demonstrated in corralling Santiago. In high school Drozd set the state record in the high jump at 6 feet, 9 inches, ran a 4.6 forty yard dash and won the Connecticut state's decathlon.

After a Chris Bolt punt, the Infantry offense took the field led by sophomore Gino Debartolo. After a first down, the Infantry went for it on fourth-and-short but Raymond Maples was stopped cold on a terrific tackle by Corey Watts. The Armor took over on downs. They didn't do much with the ball as they went three and out with Santiago carrying the ball every play. Chris Boldt did a nice job placing a punt inside the 10-yard-line. After a carry by fullback Dan McGue gained just a yard, Debartolo was sacked by junior defensive tackle Bobby Kough at the three yard line. Kough's return to the team has really solidified the center of the Black Knight defensive line. Gino's third down pass attempt for Maples was broken up and the Infantry was forced to punt. Punter Chris Boldt received a bad snap and barely was able to get the punt away. The Armor took over after the short punt at the Infantry 41-yard line.

After an incomplete pass Angel Santiago pitched to fellow sophomore Tony Giovanelli who ran untouched down the right sideline for a touchdown giving the Armor a 7-0 lead after Eric Osteen's extra point. The Infantry took answered back their next possession with a touchdown of their own.

Early in the drive junior Raymond Maples bulled his way for a 17-yard gain. Later on the drive the Infantry tied the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Gino DeBartolo to Larry Dixon. Dixon caught the screen pass and showed his power and strength running over three defenders. Billy Fisher hit the extra point to tie the score at 7-7. Dixon had a terrific plebe year as ArmySports.com had predicted last season during out Incoming R-day feature. The only negative in his game was he seemed to play a little heavier than he did during his MVP season at USMAPS in 2010. Larry was caught from behind by the pursuit on his longest runs. This off season he has focused on speed work in coach Gerch's strength and conditioning program. Dixon seems to have lost a few pounds and gained a step. Expect Dixon to have a terrific season at B-back.

The following series the Armor was forced to punt shortly after quarterback Angel Santiago just missed wide receiver Chevaughn Lawrence on deep post pattern. Chris Boldt made a nice punt inside the 20-yard line. The Infantry went three and out as quarterback Gino DeBartolo had a rough series. DeBartolo fumbled on second down but fortunately for him guard Frank Allen recovered the ball. The next play he was sacked for a loss. Billy Fisher's punt was short and the Armor started at the Infantry 45. Junior quarterback Parker Hite entered the game for the first time. Hite immediately hit Lawrence for a 31-yard pass completion on a nice throw. This set up a 33-yard field goal by Eric Osteen with a little over a minute left in the half as the Armor took a 10-7 lead.

The Infantry had the ball first to start the second half. On the first play Gino DeBartolo showed good quickness on a 44-yard run down to the Armor 31-yard line. On third down Debartolo pitched to running back Terry Baggett who ran 28 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Billy Fisher's extra point gave the Infantry a 14-10 lead. The team exchanged three and out series. After taking over at their own 45-yard line, quarterback Angel Santiago put together a drive that culminated with a five yard touchdown run by Brian Austin. The Armor regained the lead, 17-14. After another bad snap on a punt attempt the Armor recovered the fumble. They moved the ball a short distance before Eric Osteen kicked a 34 yard field goal at the end of the third quarter to make the score 20-14.

At the start of the fourth quarter junior running Julian Crockett showed good speed on a 23-yard run to start the Infantry drive. The Infantry drove close to the goal line. Fullback Dan McGue was stopped on two consecutive carries. DeBartolo fumbled another snap and and recovered it on the 3-yard line. Josh Jackson made a terrific tackle on Stephen Fraser short of the goal line. On fourth-and-goal Jackson again tackled a running back, this time Kelechi Odocha, and the Armor team took over on downs. It was a terrific defensive stand by the Armor. Josh Jackson (6 tackles) was the defensive star at the post where he spent cadet troop leadership training last summer.

The Armor took over on the 1-yard line. On a third-and-7 from its own four, fullback Hayden Tippett broke free for a 16-yard run allowing the Armor to run out the clock in what was an exciting if not especially well played scrimmage. After the game the players, sort of like asoccer friendly match, gave their special edition jerseys to the enlisted troops in attendance. The troops in the stands were into the game from start to finish.



Spring football Notes:

Over 20 players were held out due to various injuries. Quarterback Trent Steelman was at the game but was on crutches. Don't worry, it's not a serious injury. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields told me earlier in the week that he wasn't playing Steelman anyway. Malcolm Brown is still recovering from off season ankle surgery and has been held out of contact drills. Jarrett Mackey and Trenton Turrentine both are both progressing well from knee surgeries and are expected to be ready for summer camp.

Fullbacks coach Joe Ross, a former Army player, coached his last game for the Black Knights during the spring game. Ross, as we recently reported, is leaving the staff for an executive position as a consultant for the Government's Human Technology and Performance Program. It was a difficult decision for Ross to leave the football program but one he feels demonstrates the value of a West Point education. Ross said, "There isn't a better place than West Point. You can succeed in anything in life. No door is shut to you. The kid who doesn't come here is crazy."

Head coach Rich Ellerson already has selected Ross' replacement by hiring Georgetown's Luke Thompson. Thompson had spent the last six seasons at Georgetown. He coached the linebackers and served as the special team's coordinator. Thompson spent two years at Harvard before joining Georgetown. He coached the team's outside linebackers. He helped guide Harvard to a perfect season in 2004, as the Crimson went 10-0 and won the Ivy League title. The Crimson held its last six opponents to 14 points or fewer, allowed just one touchdown in its last three games, shut out two opponents, and allowed an average of just 13.4 points per game. Prior to that Thompson spent 2002-2003 as an assistant at Division III Amherst College, where he oversaw the inside linebackers and served as the team's video coordinator. Amherst's defense posted four shutouts during the 2003 season. From 1999-2000 he served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Holy Cross. Luke began his coaching career in 1998 as the offensive line and tight ends coach at Bowdoin College. During his collegiate playing career Thompson was a two-year letter winner in football at Assumption College.

On the surface Thompson seems to be an unproven type of hire. On the positive side he has coached and recruited at schools with high academic standards which transitions well to West Point. However, Thompson has no connections with the staff and didn't seem like he had a dynamic recruiting success in his previous background. Obviously he did impress Rich Ellerson enough during the interview process to win the job. Hopefully he can continue and maybe improve on the recruiting success of the last few years. Ross had been a very effective recruiter in the Midwest since joining the program three years ago. Ross landed 14 recruits this past recruiting cycle. The Black Knights have really improved recruiting the last few seasons with a big assist from Ross. Some of the Army staff is older and while very technically proficient they weren't on the road as much as Ross was during recruiting season. The 39-year-old Ross did a great job of connecting with high school kids and was very effective selling the program. In discussions with Army players recruited by Ross, their relationship with coach Ross was often mentioned. Thompson needs to hit the ground running on the recruiting front for the program to continue to grow.

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