ARLINGTON, Va. - The following quotes have been excerpted from the Army-Navy Press Conference, held Wednesday, November 30, 2011, at the Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va.
Head Coach Rich Ellerson (Ref: what the Army-Navy game means to him) "Honestly, it's that moment where everybody is paying attention to what we do every week. We don't suddenly become something this week that we haven't been all year. The young men and women who to go West Point and the Naval Academy chose this path and are in that grind day-in and day-out. This is a moment when everybody pauses, witnesses and reflects who these young people are and the path they've chosen. My challenge is making sure that I'm on point, that I'm doing a good job this week of making sure that voice and that moment comes across clear. Having said that, it's a football game. The same things that happen on Saturday afternoons all over the country all fall are the same things that will happen next Saturday between the white lines. That's where the focus needs to stay for me."
(Ref.: Navy's current win streak) "Whether the traditions, history or the recent memories are positive or negative, they can all help you in the lead-up to the game. They can all help getting ready for practice tomorrow afternoon. But, as we get closer to the game, put it on the shelf. It doesn't matter. All that matters is what happens the next snap."
(Ref.: relationship and mutual respect between Army and Navy) "You're allowed to have a lot of respect for somebody, but be a fierce competitor in the same voice. They will be and are conscious of that. We respect one another's choices and paths. We can appreciate the challenges they deal with and overcome. There's a special affinity between the institutions at every level. We're great competitors, but ultimately, turn the page and we're on the same team. That's not lost on our guys at all. Everybody on that field has chosen a very unique path in their young lives. I think as a country, we can take a moment to step back and marvel at the quality of these men, and the virtues and values they represent."
(Ref.: what challenges lie in beating Navy) "We need to remember that it's a football game. We can't get caught up in watching people watching us. It's one thing to watch the stuff on ESPN, but it's another thing to find yourself right in the middle of it. "We've identified where we think the challenges lie for us. They're not all x's and o's or things you can address in the weight room. A lot of it is between your ears and managing some of the distractions that come along with the series."
(Ref.: is there a place left for the triple option left in college football?) "We're contrarians in some regard. The practitioners of the game recognize the obvious and the opportunity when you're doing something that everybody else doesn't do. The fact that we're somewhat unique to most of the teams we play is a tremendous advantage for us. It mitigates some of those physical disadvantages we may face. Obviously, we're preparing to play an opponent that knows the option just as well as anybody. We approach things somewhat differently, but obviously, we can look at each other's tape and figure out what one another is doing."
(Ref.: use of multiple quarterbacks) "Not having Trent (Steelman) for almost half the year has been a challenge for us. But that can happen and it happens at a lot of places. Certainly a guy that touches the ball on every play and has the college football playing experience that Trent does is hard to overcome that. You can't overstate his absence. Having said that, I've been very pleased with the way that Max (Jenkins) and Angel (Santiago) have stepped up. They've managed that situation in a difficult environment really well. That speaks to the amount of repetitions those guys get in the practice environment. They haven't had the game experience that Trent has and there's no substitute for that."
(Ref.: quarterback situation going into the Army-Navy game) "We'll know more after tomorrow. We took today off, but we'll have Trent (Steelman) back in the practice environment and see how that feels. We're optimistic."
(Ref.: Andrew Rodriguez's return to the team after missing a season with a back injury) "We decided to elect our captains based on who the upperclassmen wanted to lead them into this season. They realized it would be especially challenging so that decision was made in the spring. It was virtually unanimous they wanted A-Rod as one of the captains. At that point in time, we weren't sure if he was going to be able to play. We knew he was going to be back and a part of us, but I made it absolutely clear that we were going to take baby steps with him. We didn't want to set him back. It speaks to his presence that a guy who had not been with us in the spring, a guy who was not cleared to play and had not played the year before was almost unanimously respected by his contemporaries as a leader. That's powerful stuff."
(Ref.: Reflecting on this season) "It's been a tough year. Tough schedule, injuries, you name it, we had it. We had some good days and bad days. But throughout that, these guys have stayed together and continued to improve. They've established a way to play. They're not going to blink. They're not going to quit on each other or what we're doing. I think we have a chance to be a better football team that we've been all year next Saturday and it's because of that effort. It's rooted in the message of these captains."
(Ref.: playing this year's game in Washington, D.C.) "I think it's fitting and appropriate that this game is played in our nation's capital. We're closer to Annapolis than we are West Point, but our military establishments, our leadership, the community surrounding D.C., they appreciate us and what we represent. I suspect that it's going to feel like a home field for both teams. We have a longer bus ride than they do, but I think it's entirely appropriate that this game gets played here from time to time. Obviously, we love the history and tradition associated with playing in Philadelphia. That's time-honored. But there's a special connection between both of our institutions and our nation's capital. There is all kinds of symbolism associated with that."
(Ref.: reflecting back on his previous two Army-Navy games) "We've learned each year. Last year's football team was learning to deal with being on a big stage and playing well on it. We stepped onto that big stage against quality opponents a couple times last year and did not play well. We couldn't handle the lights or the distractions. Even though we didn't like the score of last year's Army-Navy game, I thought we managed that. We played better. When bad things happened, the guys cleared and battled back. They never stopped believing they were going to find a way to win."
Senior LB Steve Erzinger (Ref.: progress the team has made under head coach Rich Ellerson) "I think we've taken a lot of steps forward. It's a young crew with a lot of young players. Obviously, there are some things you can't do as well when you have a veteran team like we did last year and we played really well. The guys are learning the system and they're really doing a great job. Aside from three games, we're competing in every one and playing really well. They could have gone either way, and unfortunately they didn't' fall our way most of the time. As far as development and getting better each week, I think we did that."
(Ref.: the Air Force game) "It's always tough to take a game like that, especially when you're ahead going into the half. You want to come out and still attack and make sure you're doing the right things. There are just little mistakes, again, that come with being a young team. It comes with being a building team, and it's just one of those things. You can't control everything, but you can hold onto the ball or you can make a stop if you're a defensive player. It's just things like that; you need to understand that's what you're expected to do."
(Ref.: assessing Navy's nine-game winning streak versus Army) "I can't really reflect on the nine straight losses, because I've only been here for three of them. For the three we've been here for, the first game my freshman year was pretty much a blowout. Navy did a great job. It's been getting progressively more competitive each year. We're closing that gap. Navy's doing an excellent job recruiting and doing great things as far as coaching and personnel-wise. You have to nod your head to them. It's getting better. Last year, there was one play that swung the whole play. It's still making a name for itself. It's fun and exciting."
(Ref.: what Army has to do in order to end its losing streak versus Navy) "Mistakes happen each way; they've just responded really well. The key for us is to keep it simple and have fun. If you're putting too much stress on thinking about `don't drop the ball, don't drop the ball, don't drop the ball', you're going to drop the ball. So you don't want to do that. You really just want to focus on the things you can control, like positive control of the ball instead of `don't drop the ball'. Defensively, it's not `don't miss a tackle'; it's hit the guy or run through him or something like that. Just making it positive."
(Ref.: his thoughts as he approaches his last Army-Navy game) "I'm going into every game working to win. We practice to win; we play to win. We'll see how the contest turns out. I'm excited and working toward getting that victory, and I know everybody else is."
(Ref.: preparing for Navy QB Kriss Proctor as opposed to Ricky Dobbs) "They're both talented guys. Ricky Dobbs was an excellent passer as well, so that was one of the things you had to keep in mind. They have an excellent play-action game, and that's one of the things that's been troubling for us in the past. So, we have to be aware of that, and I think the quarterback this year is still good at that. They still run a similar offense, though, I guess."
(Ref.: the kind of pressure he puts on himself to win this game) "It's easy to get consumed and to start to think about the losing streak, but you can't focus on that. You take the positives away. We're comfortable playing the triple option. We just have to go in there and focus on what you can do as a person inside the defense or offense and trust it."
(Ref.: reflecting on the progress of the Army football program since Rich Ellerson became head coach) "I think the program has really taken off since coach Ellerson's been here. He's done a great job changing the culture to where it's positive both down at the Corps with all the cadets and at football. It's helped us, as they say, win every day. And, moving forward into this game as a senior, I think it's an excellent opportunity. We didn't make a bowl game this year, obviously, but this is treated like one. It's a big game on our schedule and even if we did make a bowl game, it's still one of the biggest games on our schedule. We're excited about it."
Senior QB Matt Jenkins (Ref.: facing the Navy defense) "They're going to be prepared, they're going to be well-disciplined and they're going to play tough. Every time we go out there, it doesn't matter what they've done in the previous games during the season. It's going to be a tough battle, so we have to go out there and get ready for a fight."
(Ref.: whether the offense has to account for Navy DE Jabaree Tuani on every play) "Well, we're aware of him, but that's the good thing about the triple option offense. It makes the defense balance out. When that's the case, you don't really have to tailor it around a certain individual. You just find you numbers and your angles and that dictates where you want to go with the ball. We're not too worried about him, but we're aware that he's there. He's a great player, but we have confidence in whoever's meshing it on our side of the ball."
(Ref.: how the Army offense will approach the game) "We've had some extra preparation time for this game, so of course we're going to try to come at them with some things that they don't think we will. At the end of the day, though, we're going to play our offense. We have to take care of the ball, which we've had some difficulties with this season. We're working at it, and it's nothing that we're going to freak out about or anything. We're going to go back and get those four or five yard gains up and down the field and have those long touchdown drives. That's the ultimate goal."
(Ref.: assessing the nine-game losing streak to Navy) "I don't think it's worn on the program, but from day one when you get recruited here it's all about beating Navy. We have our beat Navy tunnel back at school where it has all the years where we beat them, and you walk through that and you see that it's been a while since we've had that last victory. It's a nice little reminder and makes you work a little harder to get that win. I think we're just excited and the West Point community and the Army in general is just excited that hopefully this is the year to bring back that win and end that losing streak."
(Ref.: keys to beating Navy this year) "It's been different games since I've gotten here. Last year was a close game that kind of came down to the wire. A couple plays made the difference. We're going to go out there and just take care of the ball, do what we do and hopefully come out on top."
(Ref.: how he's preparing for this game) "You prepare every week like you're going to play, and I think Trent (Steelman) is going to be good to go, but we'll see. I always have to prepare like I'm going to play, whether I'm going to start or back-up or who knows. I'm just working hard to make sure that I set this team up for success."
(Ref.: reflecting on this being his last game in an Army football uniform) "Over Thanksgiving holidays when I was at home, I was talking to my brother about it. He was just reminiscing in his glory days, but it kind of settled in that this is the last go-round. It's all kind of coming to an end, but what an amazing opportunity to finish my career and our seniors' careers at Army-Navy. If we can pull out a win that would be a great way to go out."
Senior LB Andrew Rodriguez (Ref.: playing in the Army-Navy Game) "That's the one game that everybody will be watching. A lot of the soldiers and officers that you come into contact with will talk to you about it. They'll tell you what they liked and didn't like."
(Ref.: whether the nine-game losing streak to Navy is wearing on the program) "It has been a long time, but I don't think it's starting to wear on us. If anything, I think it's becoming more of a priority and we feel like we're closing the gap and that this year we'll have the opportunity to get the win. Even though, if you look at it as a program it's a wins versus losses thing, this year's team has never played Navy. The only thing that we can focus on and control is how we play in this game, and that's what we've been trying to do in our preparation."
(Ref.: keys to beating Navy this year) "We talk about different things that make big impacts in a game and lead to victory. That's things like the turnover battle and how hard you play and whether or not you can execute your assignments and win special teams. You look at different habits that you can form in practice that can help you do those things, and the way you prepare leading up to the game with an eye toward those things."
(Ref.: being named a team captain) "That did surprise me a little bit. I wasn't a captain before. We vote for captains right at the beginning of training camp. Because I hadn't been there for a year, I was a little surprised by that. I just took it as an honor that my teammates bestowed on me, and just tried to do the best I could with that."
(Ref.: reasons why he was elected captain despite missing the 2010 season with an injury) "I think, mostly, just how much I showed that playing football for Army meant for me. I think that resonated with a lot of the guys. They also felt that, maybe, I was somebody they could look to as an example of the things we value in our program and our players. Treating all your teammates like they're your brothers, playing the game with effort and different things like that. That's what I would like to think."
(Ref.: whether or not the nine straight losses weigh on the team) "We don't really focus on the past. We're all aware that it's been too long since we beat Navy. Really, we just focus on what we can control to win this game. We feel like we have a good chance. We go back to those teams that did well. If you look at the series, there's been a lot of periods where one team kind of did well versus the other, but it always can get turned around in the next game. That's what we're trying to do with this game."
(Ref.: what it means to play in the Army-Navy Game) "It means a lot to me to be able to go out in a rivalry game like this. This will be the last game for the seniors on this team, so to go out in such a big game that means so much to so many people. You're with all of your teammates out there, knowing it's your last chance to play together. That means a lot."