August 31, 2012

Maples primed for another breakout season

Last season saw junior slotback Raymond Maples break-off an impressive 1,066 yards on the ground. The chiseled 6-foot-0, 212 pound native of the City of Brotherly Love may be one of the most underrated ball carriers in the nation, despite being on the Doak Walker Award pre-season list, which is presented to the nation's top running back.

For the Army faithful, they don't mind if he sneaks up on opponents once again, although that is highly unlikely in 2012. However, Maples himself remains optimistic that this season can bring more of the same that Black Knight fans had become accustomed to seeing in 2011.

"Last year was kind of like a milestone for me and it's only right that I get out there and at least attempt to do the same if not more," says Maples, of his junior year encore. "Honestly, I don't expect anything less than that sir."

But by his own admission, there were aspect of his game that he felt he needed to work on during the spring and summer to get to that next level as a ball player ... did he accomplish that? "I worked on my explosiveness. I think I lost a little bit of it coming out of Buckner but I still feel better than I did last year," declares Maples.

Of course he is not the only offensive weapon and realizes that even with the arsenal potential that is up and down the line up, he and he partners' real time conversations surround what they must do to become more effective in 2012. "You know honestly, we just worry about holding onto the ball," shares the very candid Maples. "That was the thing that killed us last year ... a lot of fumbles. Other than that, it's friendly competition that we have competing against each other."

And with the college season opening on Thursday evening for many programs, the Black Knights have a bye week, which will allow them to sharpen their skills for the match-up against SDSU in 8 days. Ironically, that is one game that Maples said that he has been looking forward to playing over any other on the team's schedule.

"I've got the San Diego State game circled {chuckles}," he adds. "For a couple of reasons. Number one, it's the first game of the season and the second reason ... I felt we should have beat them last year. We still hung in the game even though we had something like 7 or 8 fumbles."

After taking on SDSU on the road, Army will return to the friendly confines Michie Stadium on the campus of West Point. For the Philly native, playing at home often means that his family has the opportunity to see in person ... something that has special meaning for the slotback who wears No. 1.

"It's a blessing," he shared. "Just to look up in the stands and knowing that I have genuine support from my family. Even if I mess up or do well ... that family support means a lot."

But Maples also knows, that family support or not, there is a new role that he has undertaken, even though he may not have personally raised his hand to volunteer for the role. That is one of team leader, that often finds a player wearing the title by default versus vote.

"I feel that a lot of the players on the team look to me as a leader and so I have no other options but to step into that role model ... especially for the younger kids," confirms Maples. "So yes, I do feel that I do need to be a leader this year."

As excited as he is about the offensive balance that exist for this year's squad, he also feels that the defense has taken steps in the right direction to surely compliment the offensive counterparts.

"I think the defense matured a lot, just because last year they were so young and they played a lot of young players," says the hard running slotback. "But to see how they have progressed over the spring and coming into this fall camp ... I mean they really improved a lot compared to my expectations coming into camp. The defense in general has made a big improvement."

So, when he isn't studying, practicing or involved in military exercises, what does Maples do in his spare time?

"Honestly, I enjoy watching movies, joking around with Trent (Steelman) and Malcolm (Brown)," shared Maples, who had this to offer relative to his 2012 individual and team. "I really don't have any individual goals, but my number one goal is to be better than last year and make it to a bowl game," he claims.

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