Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

Army preparing for game, war

September 22, 2001

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Dustin Plumadore was on his way to visit a friend hospitalized with a broken leg when the chilling thought occurred.

Packed into a Chevy Tahoe with five other Army offensive lineman, Plumadore looked around and wondered how many of them would be alive to attend the Class of 2002's 10-year reunion.

Such things are on the minds of the cadets at the United States Military Academy this week, as the country prepares for a possible war against terrorism.

"It's kind of depressing," Plumadore, a senior cadet, said. "Everyone has asked themselves are they ready to go. I'd say it's been hanging over our heads."

Yet, despite all the distractions since last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the players on the Army football team say they are focused on winning their game against UAB in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday.

It's the first game since the attacks for both teams. Army's game against Buffalo, originally scheduled for Sept. 15, has been rescheduled for Nov. 10, while UAB will make up its game at Pitt on Dec. 1.

"At West Point, they teach you you have to concentrate and make decisions in tough environments," quarterback Chad Jenkins said. "On this team especially, everyone is pretty mature and we're able to realize right now that for us to win on Saturday would be a nice thing for the nation to see."

The cadets say that when entering the academy, they fully realized that someday their services might be needed in war.

"There is a higher mission here," coach Todd Berry said. "(The players) are cadets before they are football players. They understand that when they graduate, their services may be required."

That kind of straightforward acceptance of their possible duties make the Black Knights a team that is widely admired. Even some UAB players are letting their admiration be known.

"I have a lot of respect for what those guys have to go through," UAB placekicker Rhett Gallego said. "Even without a war, the strain that's put on them as far as academics and playing sports, those guys are a different breed. I'm glad they are going to be the future leaders of our country."

Several of the Army players say everything involved with preparing for the game from practice to studying the playbook is a welcome escape from the constant media coverage of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

Still, the repercussions of the attacks can be felt, even in everyday activities by the cadets.

The time since last Tuesday's attacks has been the toughest in Berry's career, he said, though he is quick to add the time has been much worse for thousands of others who know the dead or missing.

He gets some relief every afternoon at 4 p.m., when he sees his players for practice.

"Everyday I get comforted by looking at my players and knowing everything's going to be OK," Berry said. "I know that these guys are going to take care of us."

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