Army’s most famous Texas-born football recruit never did stand out as a baller at West Point.
Dwight Eisenhower - desperate to play on the varsity team - gained 20 pounds between his freshman and sophomore years, and started as a running back for several games before tearing up his knee. He went to the sideline for good three decades before playing his part in saving the world from the designs of evildoers.
There is no comparison to football recruiting in 1911 and 2017. In Ike’s day, football was mostly an extracurricular activity.
However, Army continues to mine Texas for football players and officers.
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The Black Knights’ roster for Saturday’s Armed Forces Bowl game with San Diego State includes 23 Texas players, among them three freshmen from Tarrant County, including Caleb McKee of Arlington and Pantego Christian, Jon King of Fort Worth Nolan Catholic, and Luke McCleery of Keller and Grapevine Faith.
Army enters the game 9-3, while San Diego State is 10-2. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Texas, of course, boasts a proud military history. Its notable Army outposts include Fort Sam Houston, Fort Bliss, and Fort Hood. Fort Worth is named for a major general who taught at West Point. The city was established by Ripley Arnold, a West Point grad whose final resting place is the outpost that would become Cowtown.
“This game is a way for us to shine a light on the fact that we have guys from this state, a great football state,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “There are a number of good players. You can come to West Point and earn an unbelievable degree and play in a program that has an opportunity to play in the postseason in front of your family and friends.
“This isn’t our first trip to Texas this year. Each time we come down here, we make it a big deal. We use all the social media avenues to reach out to prospects to let them know we’re going to be here. It further solidifies that we want Texas players on our team.”
The pitch is simple enough: Come to the top public university in America, play in a football program that has as good a tradition as any in college football (three national championships, three Heisman Trophy winners) and graduate into a well-paying job as a second lieutenant.
Not everyone, though, says, “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to be in the Army.”
Moreover, fewer are even qualified.
“When I got recruited by West Point, I didn’t really know what it was or much about the academy,” said John Voit, a senior defensive lineman from Missouri. “I wanted to play college football, and I took a visit there. I knew I wanted to serve. There was no better opportunity for me. I took it. I have no regrets. It’s been awesome.”
Recruiting football players to West Point isn’t completely different from San Diego State or any other university. The academic and military components make it unique and recruiting quite a job.
Monken said the football program alone makes about 10,000 evaluations a year.
Can they compete athletically? Can they compete academically in perhaps the most rigorous environment of any school in the country? Do they want to be an Army officer?
“Yes” to those three questions makes a prospect.
“Fortunately there are enough young men out there who have a servant’s heart and are open to it,” Monken said.
Acceptance into any of the four service academies requires a congressional or service-connected nomination.
Like Voit, quarterback and teammate Ahmad Bradshaw didn’t know anything about the academy before his recruitment began.
“I didn’t even think about it,” said Bradshaw, the leader of Army’s ground attack with more than 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns. “But through my research of the school, I saw the impact officers have on their soldiers. That was something I wanted to do.”
Army has become a regular in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The Black Knights played North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year and returned last month to play the Mean Green in Denton.
They like leaving their footprint here.
“We get a great reception when we’re here,” Monken said. “We have had several prospects reach out to us to tell us how excited they are about us being here.
“There’s a lot of young men and women … our other sports also recruit Texas, too. They are very open and excited about the opportunity to come to West Point.”