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Army football present and past

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It’s 33 days until the beginning of spring practice. Not that anyone’s counting, of course.

"We're excited and ready to go," said new Army head football coach Jeff Monken. "We spent a lot of time in January building a staff and then focused on recruiting. Now, we get an opportunity to work with the players and begin to institute our systems and terminology. We will spend a lot of time teaching, yet our sessions will be up-tempo and physical.”

The Black Knights will practice in the afternoon, splitting time among Michie Stadium, Howze Field, Foley Center and the U.S. Military Academy Prep School. Practices will be open to the public, culminating with the annual spring game April 19 at Michie.

Army begins the 2014 season Sept. 6 at Michie against Buffalo.

***

ESPN has been commemorating Black History Month with a series of features on those who had an influence on the increasing importance of African-Americans in sports. Sage Steele had an interesting assignment this week when she narrated a story on the first black Army football player to earn a letter. Her father.

Gary Steele, a tight end, won the first of three letters in 1966, when, in his freshman season, he caught 25 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns. His best season statistically was 1968 when he had 27 catches for 496 yards and three touchdowns. During that year, he had eight receptions for 156 yards against Penn State, shattering the single-game record previously held by the legendary "Lonely End," Bill Carpenter.

Steele’s career numbers were 66 receptions for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. He also earned four varsity letters in track and field, two indoors and two outdoors. He set the academy record in the high jump with a leap of 6-feet, 9-inches against Navy, a record broken later that season. He was chosen in the 17th round of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He retired with the rank of colonel.

Sage Steele said it took some time to convince her father to be featured. It was originally scheduled for Veterans Day last November, but was put back because he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Sage told ESPN that the toughest part of the assignment came when she finally had to see the finished piece.

“I had to watch it three times because the first time I cried throughout it,” she said. “It was more emotional for me than I thought it would be. I realize how fortunate I am to honor my dad on a platform like this and when I saw his face on television, it just hit me. I’ve always known how blessed I am to have a great family, but now the world can see how special my dad is, not just as a former athlete, but most importantly as a person.”

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