Army's triple option the ultimate chess game

Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw passed for 35 yards and scrambled for 51, tacking on a rushing touchdown in his team's 21-17 victory over Navy on Dec. 10, 2016.


By SAL INTERDONATO | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: September 1, 2017

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service)  — A family friend taught Ahmad Bradshaw how to play chess in second grade. He loved the game's strategic elements and the challenge of making split-second decisions in the times competitions. Bradshaw joined the chess team in middle school.

Almost a decade later, chess remains one of Bradshaw's favorite hobbies. It especially comes in handy when he crouches under center as quarterback of the Army football team.

"When you play on a clock with chess, you need to have three moves ahead of your opponent," said Bradshaw, a senior captain from Chicago.

Now he's making those same split-second decisions operating Army's potent triple-option rushing attack. In his third year as starter, Bradshaw has mastered reading defenses, deciding whether to tuck the football between the fullback's arms, pull the ball out and pitch it to a slotback or keep the football and use his own legs to gain yardage.

"You have to know the next three things you are going to do," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw led Army to the nation's second-ranked rushing attack and an academy-record 46 touchdowns last season. Bigger things are expected this season, starting on Friday night against Fordham at Michie Stadium, with the bulk of Army's offense returning.

When the triple option is in peak form, it's the ultimate equalizer against more athletic and higher skilled opponents, not to mention an "energy boost," as senior lineman Josh Boylan puts it. Drives such as Army's 12-play, 80-yard, game-winning march in the fourth quarter against Navy last December define the offense.

"When you are clicking, you got the guys bought in and everyone is working as one unit," Boylan said. "You don't think about how tired you are. You think about how we are demoralizing the defense on the other side."

Bradshaw, Boylan and their teammates provide a detailed look into the triple option, one of college football's treasures. Fordham defensive line coach Andrew Jackson, a John S. Burke Catholic graduate, weighs in on what it's like to defend the offense.

An inside look at Army's triple option:

Ahmad Bradshaw, quarterback

"First and foremost, I should be the leader and protect the ball. I touch the ball more than anybody. That's my No. 1 job, protect the ball and make good decisions with the ball. Just get the ball in the hands of the right people at the right time.

"It's about being tough and executing the plays. I like the toughness in our guys more than anything. There's not one person on a team whose job is more important than the other. It's all 11 guys."

Darnell Woolfolk, fullback

"Definitely at B-back (fullback), you know you are getting hit every play. There's no doubt about it. Whether you get the ball or you don't, you are getting hit. In that aspect, you have to keep your body healthy. That's probably the biggest thing, and a lot of it is in your head. You have to give your 100 percent effort all of the time because you don't know if you are getting the ball or not. Our footwork has to be pretty good so we are not colliding with the quarterback or getting in too far."

John Trainor, slotback

"We love playing fast, sticking to our fundamentals and trusting one another. When everyone does their job, it could be a lot of fun. (Blocking) is a huge role in our offense and we embrace it. It's just something that we love to do. It feels good knowing we have that ability to just keep pounding the ball. It pays off during the game. It takes a little toughness. To be a football player at Army, in general, you have to be a tough kid. I don't want to say it comes automatically, but it's definitely something we take pride in as slots."

Kjetil Cline, wide receiver

"On most plays, our job (as wide receivers) is blocking and making sure we get our guy blocked. At the end of the day, it's 1-on-1 and we want to make sure the guy that we are blocking doesn't make the tackle. (Wide receivers) Coach (David) Corley says it might not be the most celebrated block that everybody can see, but he sees it and we definitely coach effort on every block. When we run the ball well, we start to pass more and that's what we (the receivers) want to do."

Josh Boylan, offensive lineman

"You are allowed to go full speed and really as long as you stay in your track and you are doing what the coaches ask you to do, you can play with a reckless abandonment. You get to go in there and tear somebody's leg off and go up to next level. It's just a good time as an offensive lineman to play with aggression and be one unit and one surge."

Andrew Jackson, Fordham defensive line coach

"They are a well-oiled machine. They have cut down on their turnovers (since he coached against Army as a Penn State graduate assistant in 2015). The pre-snap penalties have gone away and they are much, much faster and sharper. Bradshaw is a wily veteran. He just does everything for that team. They have done a good job of establishing their fullbacks and all of sudden you look up and they are trying to throw the ball over your head. They definitely have a lot more options."


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