WEST POINT – A week off during the football season. Bruises, sore muscles and sprained ankles have a greater chance to heal. Players and coaches have a chance to clear their heads, at least for 15 minutes or so. But in Army’s case, one week off – or more – hasn’t led to much success.
In Rich Ellerson’s previous four years as head coach, the Black Knights have won only one game following its bye, a 29-7 victory over VMI in 2010. There’s a three-week break before their annual tussle with Navy, and Army has lost 11 straight of those. Army did have one other victory following a break in the schedule, a 16-14 victory over SMU in the 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl three weeks after the Navy game. Ellerson admitted he was unaware of his team’s problems following those breaks in the middle of the season. And, no matter.
“This week we liked it a lot,” he said. “There were times I would prefer to keep playing, but this was not one of those weeks. We have been banged up and have had some guys that have been out for a while and we’ve been healing and that extra week got them over the top. At this moment it was imperative, where we were health-wise.”
Among those players who benefited from the healing process are quarterbacks Angel Santiago and A.J. Schurr and linebacker Julian Holloway. Linebacker Thomas Holloway has not practiced, and halfback Raymond Maples, last season’s leading rusher, has been back and forth. Maples has missed five straight games since suffering a groin injury in week 3 against Stanford. Prior to Army’s last game, against Temple, Ellerson was confident that Maples would return by this week’s game against Air Force. Now?
“Ray practiced last week a little bit and doesn’t feel great coming out of that practice so we’re still trying to see where he is,” he said.
As for the team, Ellerson said, “This bye, given the eight straight weeks, part of our mission was to try and get fresh. We weren’t going to get back and do a lot of preseason work. We did have a lot of work that week and the guys that were available took it. The key was to get us as healthy and as fresh as we could, keep our fundamentals dusted off and try to get ahead on Air Force. That was it and frankly having a couple days off may have been the best thing we need because that’s what they needed.”
The game against Air Force will be Army’s first game in competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, awarded annually to the service academy that win the round-robin series among the three. Navy, the two-time defending trophy winner, defeated Air Force 28-10 Oct. 5. If Army beats Air Force, its game against Navy Dec. 14 will decide which team wins the trophy. Army last won it in 1996.
Army linebacker Holt Zalneraitis is among the candidates for the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Awards and a semifinalist for the 2013 William V. Campbell Trophy, it was recently announced.
Zalneraitis, a senior defensive lineman, is one of 170 players who were nominated nationally with at least a 3.2 grade-point average, make a significant contribution to the football team and demonstrate strong leadership and citizenship.
The 2013 NFF National Scholar-athletes Awards are presented by Fidelity Investments while the prestigious Campbell Trophy is endowed by HealthSouth and recognizes an individual as the absolute best scholar-athlete in the nation. Army's Andrew Rodriguez won the award in 2011.
Zalneraitis has a 4.02 GPA as a Life Science major. In addition to playing in five games this season with eight tackles and a sack, he is participating in medical school interviews. He is one of 39 nominees with a 3.8 GPA or better.