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June 19, 2012Army football is making a 2013 trip to an exotic locale that draws tourists from around the world, but there is more to the Black Knights' Hawaii game than visiting paradise.
Athletic director Boo Coorigan says Army seeks national exposure from playing games around the country and wants road trips that are memorable experiences for West Point's cadets. That's the mission statement.
Hawaii also provides the Black Knights an opportunity to represent the highly decorated 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barricks just 10 miles from Aloha Stadium.
Other than that, though, Coorigan took on the demeanor of a grizzled football coach, saying he was focused on the 2012 schedule that opens Sept. 8 at San Diego State. Coaches don't like to suggest to their players they're looking beyond the next game on the schedule.
But Chuck Cardinal, a 1975 West Point graduate and retired Army Colonel, confronts no such limitations. He's already looking ahead as the president of the West Point Society of Hawaii.
Plans are in place for events surrounding the Nov. 30, 2013 game. Space is reserved for a luau at the Hale Koa Hotel the night before the game and a there is catered tailgate on game day at Aloha Stadium.
In addition, West Point's Class of 1967 has adopted the Hawaii game as a gathering point for a class reunion with Cardinal saying at this point at least 150 members are expected to attend.
"We're committed to making this a great experience for the Army team, alumni and fans," Cardinal said. "It's hard to say this isn't a Navy town, but there is a misperception about that.
"The Army has more personnel in Hawaii than the Navy. I don't know if Army plays another game anywhere in the country with an Army base so close to the stadium."
There are 21,500 soldiers at Schofield Barricks, another 5,000 reserves and 500 West Point alums, active or retired, on the islands. The alums include Schofield commanding general Frank Wiercinski, a 1979 West Point grad.
"General Wiercinski wants this game to be a big deal with the active Army, too -- not just with the West Point Society," Cardinal said.
Cardinal makes the point the football team's success on the field can influence the general public's opinion of the Army.
"People serving in senior positions in the Army take great pride in how West Point represents the Army," he said. "We're all very prideful about the Army. But whether we like it or not, what people think of the Army, from the Big Kahuna in Hawaii to a farmer in Wisconsin, is based on the score they see Sunday morning."
Another feature of an Army-Hawaii game is it will serve as a homecoming for Black Knights head coach Rich Ellerson and some players now that Ellerson is enjoying success recruiting in the shadow of Diamondhead.
Ellerson played at Hawaii in the mid-1970s and cut his coaching teeth as a graduate assistant with the Rainbow Warriors in 1977. He coached two more Hawaii stints under Dick Tomey from 1981 to 1983 and Bob Wagner from 1987 to 1991.
Safety Tim Kamana of Honolulu Punahou and linebacker Kyle Fleming of Waimea High on the Big Island will feel at home. In addition, other Army football players of Samoan heritage have Polynesian roots in Hawaii.
"We want to keep that trend going that we've established with Tim and Kyle," Cardinal said. "They are special kids with a chance to go to West Point. There is good high school football out here."
Army traveled to Hawaii once before, but it was 2003 when the Black Knights were mired in a low-point of program history. Army lost 59-28 in the 12th game of a 0-13 season at a time Hawaii was enjoying a rebirth in the fifth year of former head coach June Jones' reign.
Now, though, Hawaii is experiencing another coaching transition, so it's difficult to predict the standing of the program by the end of the 2013 season.
The Warriors have fallen off from their 2007 BCS season, the last under Jones, who left for a big payday at SMU. The Warriors were 12-0 entering the Sugar Bowl before losing to Georgia 41-10. Hawaii's final ranking was No. 10 and Georgia's No. 4.
But since then Hawaii hasn't finished a season with a national ranking and only once with a winning record. The Warriors were 10-4 in 2010, including a 31-28 victory at Michie Stadium in the only meeting between Army and Hawaii.
Without Jones, Hawaii was 7-7 the first year in 2008, 6-7 in 2009 and 6-7 in 2011. Greg McMackin retired after the 2011 season and was replaced by Norm Chow, a Honolulu native and graduate of Punahou, President Obama's alma mater.
Chow, who turned 66 in May, has been regarded as a highly touted offensive coordinator dating back 30-plus years ago at BYU, but the 2012 season is his first opportunity as a head coach.
He's also been the offensive coordinator of the NFL's Tennessee Titans in addition to OC roles with BYU, North Carolina State, USC, UCLA and Utah. He left BYU for NC State in 2000 when he wasn't named the head coach to succeed LaVell Edwards.
Chow hired Thom Kaumeyer as his defensive coordinator. Kaumeyer is a former NFL player and assistant coach, most recently with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also had college stints at Kentucky, Tulane and San Diego State.
"Being out in the middle of the Pacific, we've got that Aloha spirit," Cardinal said. "We want to share it and make this game special. It needs to be memorable for the team. That's why we're committed to making this a great experience."