October 10, 2012

Steelman tunes out criticism, turns up a big victory

If any college quarterback is at least somewhat inoculated from football's bane of armchair quarterbacks, it would seem to be Army's Trent Steelman.

He's a fourth-year starter. He's the Black Knights' career-record holder for quarterback rushing yards (2,503) and quarterback rushing touchdowns (36). He has a track record of playing through pain. In last year's Army-Navy game, he returned from an injury that had knocked him out of three of the four previous contests to play on one leg and nearly lead Army to an upset of Navy.

Does an Army quarterback even hear such criticism with the time demands of a full load of classes, duties as a Cadet and football practice? Does such second-guessing even find its way over the walls of West Point's insulated environment like some kind of high-tech computer virus?

Apparently, the answers are yes and yes.

Football fans are a fickle bunch and there were indeed calls to replace Steelman's experience, talent and leadership during Army's frustrating 0-4 start with an inexperienced sophomore (Angel Santiago) or an even less experienced freshman (AJ Schurr). The criticism, it turns out, found Steelman ears.

"You just have to know there are bigger things in life than to take what anybody says personal," Steelman said. "You've just got to believe in yourself and believe in your abilities as a player and a leader. You have to be able to go out and have fun and prove we're still able to win games and big games at that. (Winning) helps with our confidence and helps with this team to get going where it wants to go."

I think we put too much pressure on ourselves early in the season and we didn't play well. You hear a lot of voices around here and you can let it affect you.

- Captain & QB, Trent Steelman

Steelman ignored the cries entering last week's Boston College game and engineered a 34-31 comeback win. The only time he has flinched this year during a start that frustrated him as much as fans was when he tried to play with injured ribs suffered late in the Wake Forest loss.

"He has the ball at his hands and is at the center of the storm," Army head coach Rich Ellerson said. "I think he's an awfully good player, a good operator. He's a tough, resilient leader for that outfit. He's university respected by his peers in that regard."

When Army hit this season's low point in 20-3 loss at home two weeks ago against Stony Brook, Steelman proved he's human by admitting his inner-confidence received a needed boost. Ian Shields, Army's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, pulled him aside.

"He said, 'Everything is OK and we're going to win games because of you and you're going to be able to take us great places,' " Steelman said. "That was reassuring to hear. It was great to have one of my coaches pull me aside and take the time to do that for me, especially after four years in this program of being a starter. It is very reassuring to know you have that type of a person on your side."

The 6-foot, 207-pound Steelman from Bowling Green (Ken.) High by way of the USMA prep school, produced big numbers and dramatics against the Atlantic Coast Conference school. He scored the game-winning touchdown and directed Army's triple-option offense to 516 yards rushing and 595 total yards. He was one of three backs topping 100 yards with 22 carries for 141 yards and three touchdown runs of 1, 27 and 29 yards.

The game-winning 29-yarder came with 45 seconds to play and only a couple minutes after Army had been stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1 when he pitched to Raymond Maples and Maples was stopped.

But Army got one more chance when the Black Knights forced a short punt and took over at Boston College 38-yard line.

"When we got the ball back, all were thinking is this is the opportunity we wanted," Steelman said.

He scored on third-and-1 from the 29 when BC's defense took the pitch man while Steelman kept the ball and swept up through the alley for the 29-yard TD run.

"Coming off a big win over an ACC school is a confidence boost to know we can turn our season around," Steelman said. "Just to know we have our school and our fans behind us, it's reassuring."

Army (1-4) needs to win five of its last seven games for a bowl berth starting with Saturday's home game against Kent State (4-1) of the Mid-American Conference. The Black Knights also can set up a showdown for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy in the Army-Navy game on Dec. 8 by defeating Air Force when the Falcons play Nov. 3 at Michie Stadium.

Army is again leading the nation in rushing with 397.2 yards a game. But there is room for improvement even for an offense that churned out nearly 600 yards.

"We have to eliminate turnovers and little mistakes," Steelman said. "If we eliminated two turnovers, we have a chance to put two more touchdowns on the board. If we eliminate mental mistakes such as penalties, we put ourselves in better position to put more points on the board. There are still more points we can cash in."

Army fumbled four times and lost two against Boston College. The Black Knights also committed seven penalties for 56 yards.

Fumbles and penalties also put the Black Knights in holes in narrow losses to Northern Illinois (41-40) and Wake Forest (49-37).

"I think we put too much pressure on ourselves early in the season and we didn't play well," Steelman said. "You hear a lot of voices around here and you can let it affect you."

"We got back to having fun against Boston College. We're optimistic about the rest of the season. A win cures everything. We're going to try and win some games and get back to .500."

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