While waiting his turn to become the next great tailback at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., Patrick Mealy focused his attention on another swift and tough former DeMatha tailback who was making a name for himself in the NFL.

When he finally was named the starter in his senior year, Mealy studied tapes of the star he had grown to idolize to see what made him excel, and glued himself to the television on NFL weekends whenever an Eagles game was being shown.

The name of this star, tailback, and idol was Brian Westbrook, who went from DeMatha to Villanova to the Eagles and 49ers.

"I think the big thing I learned from him was his toughness," said Mealy, now a senior slotback for Army who will play his final regular-season game Saturday against Navy at Lincoln Financial Field.

"Watching him back in his DeMatha days, he was just a tough guy. He played hurt. He was unselfish, and I think that mentality I learned from him has definitely helped me be successful in this [triple-option] offense. You're not a star in this offense; it's a very unselfish offense. I learned that from Brian."

Mealy put up terrific numbers in his one and only year as a high school starter, rushing for 1,570 yards and scoring 27 touchdowns. He showed many of the same traits as Westbrook - toughness, elusiveness, and surprising power - at roughly the same compact size (5-foot-8, 200 pounds).

"I used to get that all the time," Mealy said of people commenting about the physical resemblance to Westbrook.

"He made my high school experience that much more fun because I had somebody to strive to beat out. I've had a chance to meet him and talk to him. I've talked to him about workouts, practices. He's just a great guy who has helped me. I still look up his stats to see how he's doing."

Mealy has not been as prolific during his career at Army. After rushing for a career-high 673 yards last season, he has picked up 399 yards on the ground going into Saturday's game, good for third on the team, after being slowed in midseason by a knee injury.

Beyond the numbers, however, this has been a good year for Mealy. The Black Knights (6-5) are headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1996, and they carry an air of confidence that they hope will help them break an eight-game losing streak against the Midshipmen, a deed important to all of Army's seniors.

"It means a lot," he said. "Most of our class went to prep school together, so being able to talk about something and actually complete it is amazing. It shows that whatever you put your mind to, you can do. I think that's definitely a big component as a class that we bring to the table, that we are completing the mission we started."

Part of that mission for Mealy this season has been to teach and mentor the younger players behind him. That group includes freshman Raymond Maples, Army's second-team slotback out of West Catholic High.

"I've learned a lot in leadership tools along the way," Mealy said. "Coming in as a freshman and playing, I looked up to those guys and they taught me a lot coming into this system. Now I pass it down to the younger guys on our team. That's definitely helped us be successful this season, I think."

Mealy had the most rushing yards, 48, of any Army player in last year's 17-3 loss to the Mids. The Cadets' leading rusher this season is 235-pound sophomore fullback Jared Hassin, who has gained 881 yards.

With a berth in the Dec. 30 Armed Forces Bowl against Southern Methodist assured, the Cadets feel they can break through this season against Navy and send Mealy and more than two dozen seniors away with a huge sense of satisfaction.

"When you're a competitor, you never feel there's a gap," Mealy said. "Any time we play our game, we feel we can beat anybody in the country. I think we have the pieces to win."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.