Army’s Steelman a plebe like no other

When Army coach Rich Ellerson ponders Saturday’s game against

rival Navy, his thoughts turn to Middies quarterback Ricky

Dobbs.

“He can run the option, he can throw the ball, and he has

scored a gazillion touchdowns this year,” Ellerson said of Dobbs,

who leads Navy with 924 rushing yards and a team-leading 23

touchdowns. “Certainly, they have a lot of weapons.”

Ellerson has a weapon or two of his own on offense, and foremost

is freshman quarterback Trent Steelman. He is Army’s leading rusher

with 690 yards, and when he takes the first snap against Navy

(8-4), Steelman will become just the second plebe to start at

quarterback for the Black Knights against the Midshipmen and the

first Army quarterback, regardless of class, to start 12 games in a

season.

“I came out and learned the offense quickly and adjusted to the

speed of the game,” Steelman said. “I’ve had (senior) Carson

(Williams) and the other quarterbacks guide me along the way, and

that’s helped me a lot. It has been a good fit. Just being able to

use my speed, the offense fits me well. I’m blessed right now. I’m

trying to help this team any way I can.”

In his first year as head coach, Ellerson adopted a triple

option attack similar to the one Jim Young installed at Army in the

mid-1980s. Young enjoyed great success during his tenure, and

Ellerson has guided Army (5-6) to within a victory of qualifying

for the postseason for the first time in 13 years.

The Black Knights are averaging 212 rushing yards and 71 yards

passing per game behind Steelman, who’s rushed for five touchdowns

and thrown for three more in averaging 113.6 yards of total offense

a game. But Army has dropped the ball more than Ellerson would

like, losing 13 of 31 fumbles.

“I would say that the development of our offense in general has

been a little bit uneven, but certainly he (Steelman) is one of the

highlights,” Ellerson said. “He is probably the guy that’s the

most dynamic with the ball in his hands. He does a better job every

week of managing the game and distributing the ball. He has

demonstrated the mental and physical toughness that it takes to

play quarterback in this offense and at this level, and he’s done

it while he’s been a plebe at West Point.

“All of those things are remarkable accomplishments. I couldn’t

be more pleased with where he is.”

Steelman, who just turned 20, was an honorable mention all-state

selection as a senior at Bowling Green (Ky.) High School. He threw

for 5,663 yards and 52 touchdowns and rushed for 1,694 yards and 30

TDs in high school. He also was a pitcher and center fielder on the

baseball team and an all-star basketball player.

Steelman landed at West Point by chance. Playing Division I

football in college was a dream, partly because his dad, Bob,

lettered in football at Appalachian State. Steelman had no offers

until Army popped up on his radar in late February of his junior

season.

Saying yes to a military commitment in a time of war was no big

deal considering his family history: His paternal grandfather, John

Steelman, served in U.S. Air Force during World War II; his uncle,

Tom Steelman, served in the Army during the Gulf War; and his

great-uncle, Peter Roberts, served as U.S. Counselor General to

Venezuela during the Nixon administration and also was as an

interpreter at the Nurenberg Trials during World War II in

Germany.

Steelman, the first Army freshman to start a season-opener at

quarterback in the modern era (since 1944), has guided the Black

Knights to two straight victories. And he’s coming off his best

rushing game of the season – 132 yards on 23 carries and the

winning touchdown with 1:43 left in a 17-13 victory three weeks ago

at North Texas.

“Overall, I think I managed the games pretty well this year,”

Steelman said. “The thing I’ve got to do better is deal with the

different defenses, being able to communicate to my coach what’s

going on out there.”

There’s an awful lot riding on Saturday’s game. Navy already is

locked into the Texas Bowl, but for Army to make the postseason for

the first time since 1996 it must win the 110th meeting between the

two service academies. The Black Knights have a tie-in with the

EagleBank Bowl if they win six.

More importantly, Army’s senior class, like so many before them,

has never beaten Navy. The Midshipmen have won seven straight

meetings, and 10 of the past 12, to grab a 53-49-7 advantage in the

rivalry. Navy’s current winning streak is the longest in the series

by either academy, and the Middies have outscored Army 274-71

during that span.

Steelman attended last year’s game, so he knows what the scene

will be like at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. He says

he’s not fazed.

“Not really. It’s been such a long season,” Steelman said.

“I’ve got 11 games under my belt. That just helped me progress,

just being able to deal with the big-game situation. I’m just

approaching it like any other game. It’s just another game I’m

going to have to go through.”

His coach has a different take.

“We talk about the edge,” Ellerson said. “This is one of

those games where I don’t worry about getting to the edge, I worry

about jumping off the edge.”