Photo: Brody Bagnall
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series begins this week, although most of America thinks it starts and finishes with the Army-Navy Game that is annually staged as college football’s final regular season date.
That egregiously overlooks the round-robin series involving Air Force along with Army and Navy. In fact, in 20 of the past 21 years the winner of the Air Force-Navy game has gone on to claim the CiC that earns a spring trip to the White House for the seniors.
In this year's first leg, Navy (2-2) faces Air Force (1-3) on Saturday at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.
Although Air Force-Navy and Air Force-Army flies under the radar compared to the tradition and prestige of the Army-Navy Game, that doesn’t make the Air Force showdowns any less intense for either side.
“This is a little bit more emotion flowing for games like this; there is more energy going on,” said Air Force senior linebacker Brody Bagnall. “You can see it at practice, you can see it in the weight room and you can see it in how we prepare.”
Bagnall, a 6-foot-2, 235-pounder from Vancouver (Wash.) Evergreen, is making his first start in a CiC game, but the Falcons can count on him being ready for the moment. He proved it against Army a year ago.
After not seeing the field his freshman and sophomore seasons, he didn't see his first significant playing time as a backup until last year’s Army game. He recorded seven tackles, although Army won on its way to claiming the 2017 CiC.
“I played against Army so I understand how a service academy game works,” he said. “There is a lot of energy going on.”
Bagnall’s rise from not playing to a starting role raises flags about program strength at many college programs, but not at the academies. All three schools recruit overachievers in a developmental program. They don’t all rise to starters, but Bagnall’s story is often repeated at West Point and Annapolis as well as Colorado Springs.
“Persistence, working hard every day and trying to set an example in the weight room and the off-season,” Bagnall offered as his no-so-secret method. “You have to put in a lot of extra work behind closed doors when nobody is watching.”
When he was designated as the starter coming out of spring football, he kept his foot on the pedal.
“For me,” he said, “I had to sit back and tell myself, ‘You haven’t made it yet.’ ”
He didn’t let up in fall camp nor through the first four games.
Bagnall is coming off back-to-back 10-tackle games – career-highs – despite losses to Utah State (42-32) and Nevada (28-25) in Mountain West play. He is second on the team with 25 tackles. The back-to-back 10s came when his fellow starter at inside linebacker, Kyle Johnson, was injured.
What is common about Bagnall’s story is he was lightly recruited and attracted to an Air Force Academy education, one of the elite academic institutions in the nation. He is majoring in chemistry and has career ambitions beyond the football field.
"To be honest, I didn’t know much about it, but it sound like something I’d be interested in," he said. "I committed before I went on a visit here and have loved it ever since."
Last spring, he was in an independent study program involving nucleahelix substitution of terminal alkyl halides. That, of course, is not your usual college project.
He’s also a candidate for the All-State/American Football Coaches Association Good Works team. He has organized cleanup efforts for property owners in the Colorado Springs area that were victims of wildfires.
"It's weird, but I like to keep busy," he said. "I like having a continuing challenge. The people are good here and I love my team, the brotherhood."
On the field, Bagnall has helped with the equation to improve Air Force’s rush defense from a year ago. The Falcons finished last in the nation allowing 5.9 yards per carry on their way to a 5-7 record. This year Air Force is allowing only 3.4 yards per carry and ranks 12th in the nation at 98.5 per game despite the improvement not yet showing up in the win-loss columns.
“This team comes back to work every week,” Bagnall said. “I think that’s happened every week, even after we’ve had a tough loss. We’re not playing perfect football, but we’re putting in the work to get there.”
Anything less won't due for a CiC showdown.
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The second game in the CiC series has Air Force traveling to Army to face off on Nov. 3 at Michie Stadium. With wins over Navy and Army, Air Force can clinch the CiC for the 21st time for what is now the 47th year of the competition. Air Force’s 20 titles ranks as the most in the series. Air Force last won it in 2016 and Navy in 2015.
The Army-Navy Game is Dec. 8 in Philadelphia.
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