Trent Steelman is a big man on campus, even though he'll never admit it.
As a freshman quarterback for the Army Black Knights, his role as an offensive leader is probably the one place the strict regimented system of the military, specifically at West Point, doesn't apply - at least for 60 minutes.
From beating out senior Carson Williams for the job to becoming the first freshman quarterback to record a 100-yard rushing game after his 102-yard effort against Air Force, Steelman has been out to prove his value to his teammates and coach Rich Ellerson from the onset.
"I came here wanting to start for West Point right off the bat, so to me it's a privilege and an honor to be in this position," Steelman said. "I think what I bring is consistency and poise and that is what you need out of someone running the offense, especially [Ellerson's multifaceted] triple option. I still have a lot to work on, but for now I am taking it all in and enjoying the moment."
Today, Steelman will participate in the tradition of Army's annual clash with Navy. With a win at Lincoln Financial Field, the Cadets will not only regain bragging rights and break Navy's stronghold of seven straight victories but will finish 6-6, securing a spot in the Dec. 29 EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C., against Temple.
"It's been tough to not look past Navy, but this game is a big one," Steelman said. "The past couple of weeks we have been trying to keep the same mindset in the locker room. Right now, we all know what this game means and the implications a win carries about."
Steelman's confidence and talents come from a background chock-full of gifted athletes. His father played football for Appalachian State, his mother has run more than 50 marathons and his sister played soccer at Wofford. As an all-state player at Bowling Green (Ky.) High, Steelman led his team to three straight state championships. That leadership was a part of what helped him into a starting position at West Point, where first-year coach Ellerson knew he had something very special.
"We didn't put him at quarterback because he was a freshman or not a freshman, we put him in because Trent gives us the best chance to win," Ellerson said. "I am confident that he has what it takes to take our program to the next level and I understand that all this, you know, learning this system is still a work in progress, but he does a wonderful job of staying in the moment. He has that positive vision in his head and when you have a guy that is so secure in his abilities it makes it a lot easier to do your job as a coach."
Steelman already has broken the record for most starts for a freshman (11), most wins for a freshman quarterback (five), has led the team in rushing in five of the last seven games, and leads the team with 690 yards on 191 carries. In Army's triple option, there seems to be a method to Ellerson's madness when the ball is in Steelman's hands.
"I always go in there and try to take control of the huddle; that's my job as the quarterback," Steelman said. "Basically, I try to go out there and do my job to the best of my abilities, and I think that by doing that this year, I have shown my team that I can carry us if need be."
Senior wide receiver Alejandro Villaneuva, a team captain, agrees and notes that at times it is surprising to see his freshman quarterback take on the load with the gusto of a seasoned veteran.
"He's one of those guys you can rely on and that's big, especially in military life," Villaneuva said. "He doesn't whine or complain and if he has a bad play, he takes responsibility and fixes his mistake. He's a leader and it's interesting and pretty commendable to see a young guy step up and be a leader for our younger guys."
Steelman acknowledged the nerves probably would creep in as today's kickoff draws near. He hopes that he'll show the same poise and determination he has all season.
"There'll be a little bit of nerves around game time but I just keep telling myself this is just another game," he said. "I have been playing football all my life and I have been in big games, so I just want to come out, play hard and hopefully at the end of it all - celebrate a win over Navy." *