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November 22, 2011No one on the Army roster has waited longer for his first Army-Navy football game than Black Knights freshman Mike linebacker Geoffery Bacon.
A year ago, while playing at the USMA Prep School, he was left behind to nurse his knee injury and watched the game on TV in a campus lounge with an NCO officer in charge of the facility.
"It was just the two of us and we ordered some pizza," he said. "It was hard not being there."
Bacon had undergone reconstructive ACL surgery just two days before last year's Army-Navy game and was thus unable to travel with his prep school teammates. They at least soaked up the atmosphere in the stands while anticipating another year to strap on the pads to play in college football's most historic rivalry.
"They told me it was intense," Bacon said. "They felt like they'd been on the field."
But a year a later Bacon is in a position to enjoy a full dose of Army-Navy as a starter in the 109th meeting on Dec. 10 at FedEx Field in Landover Md.
The 6-foot, 205-pounder from Milwaukee Riverside is fourth on the team in tackles while playing a backup role early in the year and starting three of the last four games. In 11 games, he has registered 54 tackles with 2.5 for a loss and an impressive 70-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Bacon's first Army-Navy game is both a comeback story from last year's injury and promising look into Army's future. He's one of seven freshmen that started games this season along with fullback Larry Dixon, center Ryan Powis, cornerback Lamar Johnson-Harris, strong safety Hayden Pierce and most recently, quarterback Angel Santiago along with slotback Stephen Fraser.
"It was around May when I felt good again and got back to being able to cut," Bacon said. "Before that, I was just jogging around. Once the summer came around I was able to work out and I saw a personal trainer that really helped me. By then I knew I would be ready to play."
But that was the physical part of earning playing time. Mentally, he was learning a new position as a middle linebacker after playing wide receiver and safety throughout his high school career.
"Your eyes have to do a lot more stuff than playing in high school," he said. "You have to stay disciplined and read your keys."
By the fifth game against Tulane, he felt the mental and physical parts of his game had come together.
"I had to fill a hole and I got there in time," he adds. "I thought, 'Alright. I can do this. I can play at this level.' "
His first start was the seventh game against Vanderbilt when he returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown.
Bacon, who is undersized and plans to put on more weight, says Army's coaches saw more in him than other college recruiters or even himself.
As a high school wide receiver, he had good hands but not enough speed to draw much recruiting interest. As a safety, Army's staff projected him as a good fit for their hybrid role of a middle linebacker that sometimes drops back into a safety role.
"I love playing this position," Bacon said. "I'm like a dime safety sometimes. I feel like I have the best of both worlds - playing linebacker and safety."
He said he never considered playing for a service academy or having a military career until Army assistant coach Joe Ross began recruiting him in December of his senior year and he made a recruiting trip in January.
"I didn't know anything about Army, but my high school coaches told me I needed to commit if I got an offer," he said. "They said it could set me up for success in life.
"When I made my recruiting trip, I loved the people here. Coach Ross was a major reason I committed. He was up front with me. He told me how I would fit in here and what I would have to do."
That included a year at the prep school, which Bacon says he now realizes was valuable preparation that he needed to play college football. Bacons explains while other true freshmen work at a scout team role at their schools, Bacon and his teammates benefit from a prep school schedule that provides playing experience
"I wouldn't be a starter this year if it wasn't for the experience I gained last year," he said. "I needed that to elevate my game."
And now comes the biggest game of his young college career.
"The Air Force game was big, but this is bigger," Bacon said. "From everything I heard about last year's game, it's going to be cray. I'm excited."
GoBlackKnights.com will continue to look inside Army football as the Black Knights begin their preparation for arch rival, Navy on December 10th.