Academy athletes play their first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with varying degrees of awareness.
Some are legacies who grew up watching Army, Navy or Air Force battle alongside their father. They may not fully understand the intensity of the rivalry until they played in their first game, but they were always aware.
At the other end of the spectrum are academy recruits without a family military background. Their eyes were suddenly opened at their first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy contest. They may have been on the bench as a backup or on the field playing, but they were quickly now aware.
Air Force sophomore fullback Shayne Davern, who is coming off a breakout performance with 16 carries for 85 yard rushing in last week’s 35-31 win over New Mexico, falls into the latter category.
He didn’t play for the Falcons as a freshman and thus could only observe the Navy and Army games. This year he’s broken into the playing rotation, but he was injured for the Navy game. Still, that was enough that he is now aware after watching his teammates defeat Navy 30-21 three weeks ago at Falcon Stadium.
“Everyone talks about how big of game it is,” Davern said. “I thought the fans were incredible with how excited they were. It was a different atmosphere. You could feel it.”
Now he’s poised to feel the hitting. Air Force (5-2), enjoying a bye week, plays Nov. 1 at Army. His New Mexico performance, including a long run of 21 yards, was a nice boost before his first Army game.
“That was a fun game,” Davern said. “We knew the fullbacks in general were going to get the ball more. That was the game plan going in and I was excited going into the game. It’s awesome to play on a team that works hard; we’re seeing the results.”
Air Force enjoyed success with the pass in wins over Navy and Boise State, but head coach Troy Calhoun’s game plan was to open the pass with play-action to the fullback. Air Force carried 74 times for 269 yards rushing. Quarterback Kale Person had 20 carries for 66 yards and one touchdown and fellow sophomore fullback D.J. Johnson ran 15 times for 51 yards and three short touchdowns of 1, 6 and 3.
Although Davern’s breakout performance was midway through the season, it wasn’t a case of the the 5-foot-11, 245-pounder from Carlsbad (Calif.) La Costa Canyon in suburban San Diego finally making an impression on the coaches. He started the season opener against Nicholls State and the Wyoming game, but was hurt in the first quarter of the second game against Wyoming.
He had 16 carries for 50 yards before topping his season total with 85 yards at New Mexico.
“An injury gives you time to step back and evaluate yourself,” Davern said. “You just have to work through because you want to help the team. You feel like you should be out there contributing and you just work until your time comes and you can let it all out.”
Air Force is not only enjoying a turnaround from last year’s 2-10 record, the Falcons can clinch the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 2011 with a win at Army, a team the Falcons have dominated in recent years.
“We don’t want to get complacent,” Davern said. “We’re staying focused one week at a time. We want to go 1-0 each week. We worked real hard in the offseason. We’ll continue to work hard.”
But there is one game past the next contest at Army that Davern can’t resist commenting on when asked: Air Force travels to San Diego State for a Friday night Nov. 21 game at Qualcomm Stadium on the CBS Sports Network. That will be a homecoming for him.
“I’m looking forward to playing at San Diego State,” he said. “My mom said she needs 50-plus tickets. I said I don’t if I can do that. I love San Diego and I’ll love playing in that stadium in front of family and friends. That will be great.”