October 14, 2011

Slotback Raymond Maples' stock is on the rise

If you turn to CNN Business Report, they will tell you that this has not been a good year for stocks. But as any professional investor would tell you, there's always a bull market somewhere.

Well, at 2-4, this has not been a great year for the Black Knights, who by all accounts should be at least 3-3.

However, emerging out Army's current sub par season is sophomore slotback Raymond Maples.

Yes, the numbers from the talented back are beginning to mirror that of a hot stock on the S&P 500, as noted from the season opener to the last game against Miami (OH).

The Philadelphia (Pa) native has gone from 25 yards against Northern Illinois and 37 yards against San Diego State. But it was the game versus Northwestern of the Big Team, where Maples began to push things into another gear, where he slashed, dashed, cut and powered his way for 95 yards and that was just a glimpse of things to come.

Maples himself realized that things were starting to come into to focus as he reflected on one play in a particular against Wildcats. "It was a play coming out of the halftime against Northwestern," he says. "It was a counter run up the middle and I saw a smooth cutback and I hit it perfectly. I think I got like 35 yards on the play."
Against Ball State and Tulane, he rolled up 125 and 141 yards respectively, along with 111 yards last Saturday against Miami.

The 6-foot-0, 212 pounds back is currently 2nd on the team in rushing with 534 yards, which puts him two yards behind team leader and quarterback, Trent Steelman.

But what stands out with Maples' success this season isn't just his mileage on the ground or his impressive 6.5 yards per carry ... it has been his blocking. Clearly, when you talk about a complete back, that's Maples, who is equally as effective running between the guard and tackle, as he is on hitting the perimeter on the receiving end of a Steelman pitch.

"He's more than willing without the ball," shared Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson, who alluded to Maples' all around talents after the Black Knights' 45-6 win over Tulane. "He's a really accomplished guy blocking the perimeter for his teammates. The thing that hasn't shown up recently is his ball-catching ability. He's a threat down the field."

"That is something that I had to work on just because we lost our primary blocker from last year in Pat Mealy," Maples adds. "In order to be any good in this offense we have to block for one another and I just took that to heart."

But before Maples was able to make things happen in 2011, he had to shake off the ills of last season. On his first carry in 2010 he was injured and never appeared to be 100%.

"Last year, it was just injuries on top of injuries and I when I went down with the ankle injury, I came back ... but after that I broke my hand in the Rutgers' game," he says. "So I just had nagging injuries throughout the whole season."

"This year I have some injuries, but not as severe as last year. So I am playing faster and more confident."

But it wasn't just the injuries that slowed Maples down as a freshman, although it is clear that his confidence is now on display each time Maples steps onto the field.

Defensive coordinators are more than aware of what could possibly happen when #1 wearing the Black & Gold gets his hands on the ball.

"I really didn't have a good understanding of the offense last year," announces Maples, of his learning curve. "So it was pretty much learning the scheme, how it was supposed to be run and learning how to block. I just tried to work at that during the offseason and I did a lot of film study with the offensive line."

Rushing Attack By Committee

Maples would be the first to say that it can never be a one man show with the assortment of ball carriers like fullbacks Jared Hassin and Larry Dixon, quarterback Trent Steelman, along with slots, Malcolm Brown, freshmen Terrence Baggett and Trenton Turrentine along with all purpose man, Jonathan Cruccitti. And the closeness of this group just makes for a even more cohesive on and off the field makes for a dominating rushing attack.

"I think we are a pretty close knit type of group," says Maples of the brotherhood within the ranks of the backfield. "Even when we hang out on the weekends ... we're always hanging out together. I think that camaraderie also shows on the field."

Achilles Heal

Thus far this season, there has not been one defensive coordinator that has faced Army's offense that can walk away saying his guys shut down the Black Knights' rushing attack or the offense overall. However, the "O" has often defended themselves with their own miscues and more noticeably, fumbles ... many of which have been untimely.

"I think it's more of a mindset," shares Maples, who has not been immune to the fumblities that seems to hit the Black Knights at the worse times during the course of a game. Last year, I don't believe we fumble the ball too much .... 3-4 times out of the whole year."

Playing in SEC Territory

Maples and his teammates know the significants of their next game which is against Vandy. However, the sophomore knows that he will venturing into a region where college football is king and the SEC currently sits on the throne over every conference in the land.

"I'm very excited about playing down there," declares Maples of his upcoming face off against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. "I'm actually thrilled because I've never played against an SEC opponent.

Being at West Point

Everyone knows that the United States Military Academy at West Point is not only one the most prestigious colleges and university in the nation, but one of the most challenging and difficult on so many levels, especially if you add to the equation being a Division I football players.

It is often said, that one does not necessarily graduate from West Point, but survives it. Just days before signing day (2009), Maples de-committing from theUniversity of Richmond and became a Black Knight.

In looking back, does Maples have any regrets in making the decision to attend the school that sits on the banks of overlooking New York's Hudson River.

"I don't thing anyone is normal if that tell you that they don't some level of regret attending the academy," chuckles Maples beneath his candid response. "So yes, sometimes I wonder, but I have good friends and good people here to tough it out with. So with the kind of support, it makes being here so much better."

Surely the Army coaching staff and fans are glad that Maples changed his mind in 2009.

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