The goals were all laid out for Raymond Maples at the start of the 2013 Army football season: Become only the second athlete in academy history to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons; help lead the Black Knights to a bowl; and, maybe most important, beat Navy.
But it hasn't worked out as planned for the West Catholic graduate. A groin injury suffered in the season's third game has kept Maples out since September, meaning he can only watch Saturday when the Black Knights (3-8) and the Midshipmen (7-4) clash at Lincoln Financial Field.
"For me personally, it's a humbling experience," said Maples, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound senior. "Things are working out fine for you and just like that it all can get taken away. It also kind of hurts to watch my team play without me. This is the first time since I started playing that I've ever been sidelined with an injury. So that combination, it hurts."
The injury happened in the second quarter of Army's home game against Stanford, on a pitch play that Maples probably has run hundreds of times in practices and games.
"The ball was pitched a little too high and I had to jump to catch it," he said. "Right when I jumped, I felt it pop. I felt funny, but I was still able to run. It didn't start to get worse until the next day, when the swelling kicked in and the inflammation had built up. That's when I knew it was pretty bad."
After missing five games, including his homecoming at the Linc against Temple, Maples received the OK to practice during his team's bye week before its Nov. 2 game at Air Force. But he tweaked the groin again on the last play of a practice and found himself back to square one.
Still, through the injuries, Maples has remained positive, according to Army offensive tackle and co-captain Michael Kime, a close friend.
"We were so excited for our senior year together, and then injuries happened," Kime said. "Ray commands so much respect from the players, not only the younger players but also his peers. He's been such a good, positive role model for us, always staying upbeat. He's a leader in the locker room and he stays vocal on the sideline."
Maples gave credit to his teammates, his coaches, and his family, all of whom "always have a positive attitude about everything that makes it easier to kind of remain happy around here."
It was a harsh way for Maples to end his Army football career. He had vaulted into prominence in 2011 by rushing for 1,066 yards, and followed it with a 1,215-yard season in 2012, making him the third player in academy history to post back-to-back seasons of 1,000 or more yards.
Maples, who finishes his career with 2,612 yards, good for sixth all-time at Army, will graduate in May with a degree in systems engineering management. He will become a second lieutenant in the armored branch of the military.
But for the immediate future, Army has a football game to play and Maples will be on the sideline encouraging his teammates and being positive.
"Don't take anything for granted," he said. "Make sure everything you do is to the utmost, to the best of your abilities. You never know when it can be taken away. Try to want to be the best that you can be every day. That's the positive I took out of it."