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Army QB Steelman poised, pumped to play Navy

Wednesday - 12/5/2012, 6:38pm  ET

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2012 file photo, Army quarterback Trent Steelman (8) runs past Air Force linebacker Alex Means (9) for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Point, N.Y. Steelman has a host of records at West Point but would trade them all for a victory on Saturday in the 113th game against archrival Navy. A win in the final game of Steelman’s Army career would give the Black Knights possession of the Commander In Chief’s Trophy, emblematic of supremacy among the three service academies. Army hasn’t won the coveted hardware since 1996. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) -- Army quarterback Trent Steelman was destined to be a star. His dad knew it nearly two decades ago.

A week after Trent started playing flag football, his coach took Bob Steelman aside at practice and made a heartfelt plea.

"He said, 'I'm not going to say anything negative about your son, but you need to put him up with the older kids in tackle football because he's going to kill somebody out here,'" Bob Steelman recalled. "So they threw him out of touch and put him in tackle as a 6-year-old."

And so began a love affair with a game that means the world at West Point. Now a senior and facing the final game of his tenure, Steelman is intent on accomplishing one final thing in his impressive career -- beating Navy, something the Black Knights haven't done in a decade.

The two academies meet on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

"It'd be the perfect ending," Steelman said, "to a season where we've seen so many ups and downs."

Army (2-9) has struggled against its rivals for what must seem like eons to the Black Knights. For the first time since 2005, both teams enter the 113th game in this storied rivalry with wins over Air Force, and the winner will decide who gets the Commander In Chief's Trophy, emblematic of supremacy among the three schools.

Navy (7-4) beat Air Force 28-21 in overtime in early October and Army beat the Falcons 42-21 at Michie Stadium last month. That halted Army's 13-game losing streak in service academy games, and now the Black Knights are focused on winning the coveted hardware for the first time since 1996.

Despite many heart wrenching losses, the 6-foot, 207-pound Steelman gives Army a legitimate chance this time. He has rewritten the Army record book with his keen mind and powerful legs, and he has directed the Black Knights' ground-gobbling triple option attack with precision and poise:

-- He is the only player in school history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000.

-- He leads the team with 1,152 yards rushing, a season record for any Army quarterback. His 755 rushes for 3,224 yards and 268 points are career records for the position.

-- He has reached the 100-yard rushing mark in a school-record five straight games, and another against Navy would tie the academy's single-season record of eight set in 1990 (Mike Mayweather).

-- Steelman has a school-record 44 rushing scores, one more than the mark set in 1946 by the great Glenn Davis.

-- And he will become the first Army quarterback since the glory days of Davis and Doc Blanchard to start four times against Navy.

The latter is a feat in itself when you consider that Steelman's dream of playing Division I football nearly was dashed despite a stellar high school career in Bowling Green, Ky.

Although Steelman led Bowling Green High to three straight state championship games, winning 36 of the 40 games he started, colleges were more interested in his baseball skills. Keep in mind, he passed for more than 5,663 yards and 52 touchdowns, and rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 30 more scores while there.

"His competitiveness didn't start when he got to West Point. He was an extremely valued leader who endeared himself to his teammates because he did everything humanly possible to win football games," Bowling Green High football coach Kevin Wallace said. "We were hopeful that schools would recognize that he could throw the ball, too.

"But his height and the fact that he had pretty much been an option quarterback his whole career is something that worked against him in terms of recruiting."

Army reached out at the 11th hour and Steelman jumped at the chance, though he had no idea what he was getting into when he entered the prep school. It's a given that a certain percentage of cadets won't cut it and don't, and Steelman called his dad on the third day ready to pack his bags.

"I told him, 'You know what? I'm not going to go through this just to play football,'" Trent said. "He hung up the phone."

Well, not really.

"I didn't hang up," Bob Steelman said. "I told him, 'You don't have a place to stay if you don't stay until Christmas and give it a shot.' They hadn't even started football yet."

Turns out, Steelman was distraught because he had been caught in a surprise inspection talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. He didn't get punished, but all of his classmates did and he had to call out their punishment.

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