October 24, 2012

Army's sophomore RB talent

Yes, the Black Knights are a young squad, on both sides of the ball and yes, the maturation process of the many of the freshmen and sophomore has been part of the frustrations that have accompanied the season thus far. Although, what is ailing Army goes beyond the team's youthfulness.

The specific ailments of this squad are for another article, but one could say that maturation of some of the younger players is a classic case of 'Catch 22'. Clearly the Black Knights want to finish the season on a strong note, in-conjunction with allowing the 'youth movement' to manifest itself as some fans would even point to the 2013 with some sincere level of optimism.

But when you listen to Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson, it's not about next year, but each upcoming Saturday of the 2012 season and in this case, Ball State.

"We're trying to have the best football team we can this week and that's all we're going to worry about and we are going to keep that mindset going forward," offers Ellerson during his Tuesday Press Conference. "Because that keeps everybody going, that keeps everybody engaged, that keeps everybody stepping forward."

"And like I said, we don't need anymore young players out there, we've got plenty of them."

But many Army fans have reconciled that this season is something they want to put behind them and begin focusing on the future. And when you talk about the present day from Ellerson's perspective and the future from where the fans sit, there is one position in particular that bridges the gap between the two.

The deepest position, and the one with the most talent is at running back. You can start with the juniors and the best place to focus your attention is Raymond Maples, who appears to be on track for back to back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Then you have backup fullback, Hayden Tippett, who continues to show his net worth to the program.

But the more apparent 'youth movement' comes from a quartet sophomores who give the fans something to smile about. They are fullback Larry Dixon, along with a trio of slotbacks in Terry Baggett, Trenton Turrentine, Stephen Fraser.

Yes, there is much football to be played in 2012, because on it doesn't get easier at all with Ball State, Rutgers (No. 15), Air Force, Temple and Navy remaining on the schedule. Yet it's hard to escape the fact that Dixon, Baggett, Turrentine and Fraser are sophomores which bolds well for the future.

"I'm really excited about the future of Army football," said the 5-foot-10, 187 pound Fraser. "As you said, there's a lot of depth in the backfield and we're all so young. But we're not just young in the backfield, but we are young all around. So there is room for people to mature and get better in the upcoming years."

Those sentiments were echoed by Fraser's fellow classmate. "Honestly, I'm excited about the future here," adds Turrentine. "We're relatively young in the backfield and we have two and three more years to improve and be great. That's the exciting thing about it is even though and I don't want to use this as an excuse, but most of us are only sophomores and juniors. We have another opportunity to improve and better ourselves to finish out strong now (2012) and a great season next year.

And the "now" that Turrentine is speaking of, has to begin in practice and according to both, if Tuesday's workouts on any indicator of the team's mindset for their game against Ball State ... things could start looking up.

"Practice went well," declares Fraser. "We got a chance to focus on the fundamentals and the basics. We can't have people trying to do too much and going outside of themselves ... we just have to play within ourselves, and we'll be alright.

"Morale is not low at all. We know that if you change a few things here and there, it's a completely different season. We've just been beating ourselves up too much and we are going to try and turn things around real quick."

"Today (Tuesday), I think the key word was focus," confirms the 5-foot-9, 206 pound Turrentine. "One thing, especially Coach Waugh (Tucker) with the running backs he wanted us to focus. He felt that after losing to Eastern Michigan and some of the previous games, that we kind of lost focus and things just haven't been clicking. So today we were working on focusing and getting back to being a good football team. All the pieces are there, we just need to put them together and finish out the season strong."

For Fraser and Turrentine, the know that each practice, each game is a step forward in their continued development. Both players will admit, the difference between now and their freshmen year would only confirm that there is still much to learn along the way, but yet much to be optimistic about going forward.

"I feel more comfortable in the offense," says Fraser, who also doubles as Army leading threat on kick returns. "Last year I was pretty nervous going into the game and I would even ask Trent (Steelman) sometimes what the play was or where I had to go. But now I feel a lot more comfortable and I know what I'm doing. I'm playing within myself and I feel a lot better."

"Honestly, last year as a freshman I was really nervous too," says Turrentine, who is presently running behind senior, Malcolm Brown. "I worried a lot and I wanted to make sure that everything was perfect because I didn't want to lose my spot. Now I don't really worry any of those things, not really nervous at all ... I'm just going out there and having fun. Sitting out with the knee injury a year ago and even coming back with a thumb injury I'm just realizing that it's just a blessing to be on the field. So I'm just taking the opportunity and I'm just having fun ... as much as possible."

On the season, Baggett, who ran opposite Maples in the starting lineup prior to suffering a injury to his kneecap, has compiled 139 yard, with one touchdown, while Turrentine and Fraser have rushed for 64 and 25 yards respectively.

Although the numbers don't jump out at the casual Army fan, especially compared to Maples' 789 yards or Dixon, who has already distinguished himself as a primetime player at this level and has compiled 494 yards this year.

However, most true observers will tell you that the trio of Baggett, Turrentine and Fraser have plenty of upside and will a delight to watch over 2013/14 seasons.

But Fraser was quick to point out that there's a game this Saturday and he feels that the troops are committed to pulling themselves together to answer the bell or in this case, the whistle. "We just have to get back on the same page like we were against BC," he said. "Once we are on the same page clicking, we're a pretty good ball team."

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