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Wait is over for Army freshmen to join quest for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy

By KEN MCMILLAN | The Times Herald-Record | Published: December 9, 2020

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Army wide receiver Isaiah Alston is one of the many players who grew up watching the Army-Navy football game, and on Saturday he will have the opportunity to play in his first.

"It's exciting," he said. "It's a tough game. Both teams have battled hard."

From the moment cadets step onto post at the U.S. Military Academy, they are bombarded with one message statement: Beat Navy. It's in the chants within the Corps. It's emblazoned on signs and even on rooftops. So it's kind of hard to separate the athletic rhetoric from the reality that it's just another football game, albeit an important one.

"It's just part of the culture here," Alston said. "I knew how it was going to be when I committed here. I've been looking forward to playing in this game since high school. It's finally game week so I'm just ready to get after it."

"It is the Army-Navy game and (under) very unprecedented circumstances this year, but it's really just another football game, fundamentally and scheme-wise," said freshman offensive lineman Connor Finucane.

But even the newest players being introduced to the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series for the first time — with the November game with Air Force rescheduled to next week — realize the added significance to the military, both active and retired.

"It's a really meaningful game," Finucane said, "for active duty, retired, cadets, the players, the coaches for both schools, to be part of that tradition that's been going on since 1890, and having a lot of the world watching."

The senior leadership of the team has taken time to speak to the younger players who have not participated in the Army-Navy rivalry, though some have previous experience in the prep school games involving Army, Navy and Air Force.

"When you talk to a direct (admit) player, this is their first game and you've got to get them ready," said senior fullback and co-captain Sandon McCoy. "You know they're not going to understand in depth the full impact of this game. But when we're talking to a freshman like Tyrell Robinson or Isaiah Alston, they understand because they played Navy last year at prep school — they also went to the Army-Navy game (in 2019) so that's why I believe they understand the importance of this game."

It's that respect throughout the team that has older players rooting for the newcomers, and the youngsters rooting for the departing seniors.

"It's going to be a little emotional, especially for the seniors," Finucane said. "I think it's the underclassmen's duty to put everything they have in the preparation and on the field and the energy that it provides for the seniors. ... It's putting it on the line for the seniors. It's their last Navy game."

kmcmillan@th-record.com

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