Best-selling author John Feinstein wrote in his 1997 book “Army vs. Navy, A Civil War” that the Army-Navy Game is classic everyone should see once in their life.
Once you’ve crossed off that item on your bucket list, your left feeling gratified with the experience but later unfulfilled with how to explain the spectacle. It’s one of those events you must see to understand.
So imagine trying to explain what it’s like to play in the game. Army senior defensive end/outside linebacker James Kelly was asked to take shot before the 115th Army-Navy Game Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“It’s like nothing else in college football,” Kelly said. “You have the Corps behind you and the old grads who come into town to see the game. There is tradition and history. It’s really unique, and I’m blessed to have been a part of the past four years.”
He’ll be a part of it more this year than any other season in his career as a first-time starter. Kelly, a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Thorton, Colo., makes his 12th start of the year after playing primarily a backup role with spot starts as a sophomore and junior. The direct admit didn’t play a plebe in 2011.
Kelly has 37 tackles, including twice accounting for a career-high eight tackles, with 22 unassisted to rank eighth on the team.
Despite his past backup role, he has a track record of playing well in the Army-Navy Game. In 2012, he recorded a then-career-high seven tackles with one for a loss. In 2013, he had four tackles with two primary stops.
This will be the last chance for Kelly and his fellow seniors to end what has now grown to an embarrassing 12-game losing streak to Navy, an unprecedented streak for either side in the rivalry.
“There is pressure with the Corps behind you and how we say every day, ‘Beat Navy!’ ” Kelly said. “But we’ve worked hard from day one, and that gives us confidence we can beat these guys. The coaching staff has done a great job with us, and we’re confident in our abilities. I’ve worked hard with these seniors all four years.”
Defensively, Kelly likes the experience the Black Knights have for this game up front with senior end Joe Drummond, senior nose guard Richard Glover, senior tackle Mike Ugenyi and himself. One more senior on the defensive side is safety Hayden Pierce.
Kelly said his role increased this year when he picked up pass coverage responsibilities under new head coach Jeff Monken and his staff. The past two seasons he was used only against the run or to rush the passer.
“We worked extremely hard in the off season,” Kelly said. “With this this new coaching staff and the new players, we didn’t know how things would turn out. It’s so satisfying to me to get some playing time with my brothers and contribute.
“I had to learn a new techniques; this coaching staff is amazing and extremely knowledgeable. They work with us on the right spots; things have turned out well for me (with his play).”
The Black Knights have won two of their last three with wins over Connecticut and Fordham to improve to 4-7 before facing Navy, a 6-5 team bound for the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium. Navy has won four of five, with the only loss 49-39 against then-No. 10-ranked Notre Dame.
“We are excited about the opportunity, this being our last game to try and play the best we've played all year,?? Monken said. “We haven't played a complete game from start to finish and I can't think of a better game to accomplish playing well in all three phases than this one."
“A lot of that has to do with Navy and we are going to have to do a great job defending them and executing on offense against them and play well in the kicking game. They've got a great football team and it will be a challenge for us. We are excited about the weekend and we know everyone is anticipating a lot of fun, a great rivalry and a hard fought battle.”