When the team completed their lift and run on Wednesday afternoon, they left for their respective homes for Thanksgiving and a much needed break away from it all, but it is now back to work. The Black Knights returned for a 1700 lift and film session Sunday afternoon, and the focus and target over the next two weeks is N-A-V-Y.
The two teams will meet for the 112th time, but for the first time inside the Capital Beltway when they square off on Saturday, Dec. 10th at FedExField in front of a sold out crowd of 82,000.
The impact of this game at this particular time for this historic rivalry can't be underestimated by anyone associated with the Army football program.
Yes, this is an off-season for the Black Knights, after a very successful 2010 season that was capped off by a win over SMU for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl Championship.
While the 2011 season could easily be defined as the year of transition, as Coach Ellerson's team saw forty-one players starting or seeing action for the first time in their college football careers. There were 16 first time starters throughout the season on offense and 12 on the defensive side. However, the Navy game always comes down to pulling in a victory and it does't matter how many underclassmen and/or upperclassmen step onto the field wearing the Black & Gold ... it's about the "W".
And if you couple that with it being a down year for the 4-7 Midshipmen, there sits a collective feeling amongst the Army faithful, that if not now (win over Navy), then when?
That feeling surely doesn't begin and end with the Black Knights' fan base, but the players themselves realize how critical this year's game versus Navy happens to be and one such player is fullback Jared Hassin, who took time out before Monday's practice to chat with GoBlackKnights.com.
Can you talk to us about the importance of the this game as an individual and from the team's perspective?
"The Navy game is by far the most important game of the season for this team," says talented fullback. "It's hard playing a 12-game schedule and to not always be thinking about Navy in the back of your mind. When the coaching staff tells you that the most important game is the one you are playing that week, but at the same time that idea of playing Navy and getting to participate in this rivalry is phenomenal. It's a great experience for everyone that is involved and an honor for me to be able to participate in. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity .... my second time getting to face off against them. It should be a great game."
"As far as the team goes, as Coach Ellerson described it as a one game season right now. We had three weeks leading up to the game and the team is really looking at this as an opportunity to kind of redeem the season. Because we haven't had the kind of success that were hoping for at the beginning of the season in terms of our record. But I think that beating Navy will certainly leave the season with a much better taste in our mouths. Also a great way to send off our seniors."
Not only would it be a great send off for the senior class, but for players over the last decade that have seen Navy win nine-straight and 11 of the last 12 contests against the Black Knights. The nine-consecutive wins marks the longest streak in series history by either team and something that is hard to swallow by no matter what your Army football affiliation. Although there is not a recent player who can transcribe their fondest moment as walking off the field against Navy with a win, there are still moments that will remain for a lifetime, as noted by the fullback out of Delafield (Wis.).
"There are always certain things that stand out," declares Hassin. "For me when I was on the field for the warm-ups I was watching out of the corner of my eye the pre-game mini production on the jumbotron of people talking about how special the Army-Navy game was."
"These were graduates and parents from both sides, both active duty and now retired service members and talking about how much the game meant to them and how much it means every year, because of what the game represents and what it stands for. Just hearing that right before the game, it really sat in the gravity and whole atmosphere. It brought forth emotions that you think you are going to have going into the game with it being such a big game."
In 2010, Hassin was the hub of Army's triple option offense, which saw the junior rush for an impressive 1,013 yards at 5.3 yards per clip.
Most observers will tell you that Hassin never appeared to be 100% physcially from the beginning of the season. Then add to that, the emergence of Dixon, who's talents don't come as a surprise to anyone who follows Army's recruiting, as the 3-star prospect nutured his skills at the prep school and hasn't missed a step since arriving onto the West Point campus.
Dixon's continous progression is exactly what a program must have .... competition at every position in order to enhance the level of play, along with much needed depth, which has been notable in Hassin's performance over the past two ball games.
"I think part of the idea that I have looked a little better and fresher in games the past couple of weeks is that I have given opportunity to practice," he adds. "At the beginning of the season the coaches were concern that I wasn't capbable of playing in games and taking the beating in practice all week. I was asked for the opportunity and I was given it, as such, practices have been going really well for me and for Larry as well."
"In terms of how it helps having Larry there, it's great. Larry's an outstanding football player and not only that, he's a great guy and tremendous 4th class cadet. He's played a major role in this system and his sucess has helped the team out tremendously ... on the same note, it has helped me out on the physical side to stay healthy."
If is often said that competition breeds excellance, and surely that is what the Army staff had hoped for and have witnessed as the duo of Hassin and Dixon now share equally the fullback spot. Clearly a concept that the junior has embraced, welcomed and feeds off of.
"Absolutely, it is certainly criticial to have that level of competition every week because it brings out the best in athletes and I think it's certainly done so here," Hassin declares, when speaking of the addition of Dixon to the program.
"As such, Larry and I have been contributing pretty well in most particular Larry, where I think Larry has fed off the idea that he's got great competition in order for him to play he's going to have to perform. And he's done that by all stretches of the imagination."
At Full Force?
As Army enters their game on the 10th, it may be the closes this team has been to calling itself healthy in some time now. Steelman's status is uncertain, but there is a level of optimisim that he will be set to go come game time. With that comes a renewed sense of purpose and possibiltiy with the 3-year started back under center, as confirmed by Hassin.
"It's great and given the opportunity to have these three weeks to rest up and get all the guys who were banged up from the eleven games prior and ready to go, get them out there practicing, getting the offense back to really to a level we were functioning at the beginning of the season before we started taking those beatings," he adds.
"It's going to be really exciting to see how well we can perform having those guys back in the offense like Trent (Steelman)," shares Hassin, discussing the possibility that the three year starting quarterback may return back to action against Navy. "How much it helps us improve, not only in the practice environment, but helps us prepare to play at that really high level of the game."
"I think at this point of the season, guys like Trent, their absence on the field has really shown. Trent is a tremendous football player and not to say that Max (Jenkins) and Angel (Santiago) haven't done good job, but with the ones' practicing with Trent primarily through the duration of camp and the beginning of the season it's just kind of a different feel."
"Getting Trent back out there full force and ready to go, will be very helpful to this offense and increases our chances."
"This team certainly understands the significance and the idea that our program hasn't take a win over Navy in almost a decade. We take that personally and we are going to do everything we can to ensure that we bring home a 'W' for the Army program," says Hassin as he makes his way up to practice.
GoBlackKnights.com will continue our Army-Navy countdown coverage, all the way to the December 10th kickoff.