Linebacker and recently named captain Nate Combs' 2012 campaign has been very productive, although overall the Army defense has struggled up until putting forth their best group effort against Boston College on Saturday.
Part of the defense's maturation can be directed to several factors that were noticeable in the team's 34-31 win over BC.
First you can see the comfort level that is beginning to manifest itself with the 3-4 starting freshmen from Chris Carnegie (CB), Alex Meier(LB), Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires (FS) and TJ Atimalala (DL), along with the sophomores and others who are receiving first team reps. Players like defensive linemen, Bobby Kough, Rich Glover and Mike Ugenyi, linebacker Geoffrey Bacon, and sophomore cornerback Marques Avery, who is subbing for injured starter, Josh Jackson.
Secondly, there was the mandate from on high ... head coach Rich Ellerson. Those words? Have fun is what Ellerson told his players and the team listened and ran with it .... literally. Those words had echoed through the rank and file the week prior to the BC game, which were also reinforced by newly named captains, Combs and quarterback Trent Steelman.
You know, each week I feel more loose. I guess I am gaining more confidence and I feel like I can do a lot more on the field than the previous week. The coaches are helping me with that as well as the players.
- Captain & LB, Nate Combs
"We finally voted in our other two captains, Nate and Trent," center Will Wilson. "They definitely during the game, before the game and the week leading up to the game took a more vocal leadership role. A lot of the senior class as a whole kind of realized we were a quite team and we don't play with enough emotion. We just wanted to bring that out and that was the big difference in the game. We were playing a lot more emotional. Honestly, we were having fun playing."
However, part of what has assisted in the maturity of the youngsters and the follow through of making the 'mandate' both possible and probable, can attributed to Combs, who has established himself as a mainstay, the seasoned veteran and the one who has become the glue for the defense.
Combs consistency has been there from the beginning of the season, but it seems that each week the 6-foot-1, 218 backer takes his game to another level. That can come in the form of a big hit, timely play or just being the emotional leader. On the season, he is 3rd on the team in tackles, but leads with 8 tackles for loss and a team high 6 quarterback sacks.
Perhaps all of the above is a reflection of his own maturation despite being a two year starter. As such, the title of captain was bestowed upon him, a role that he doesn't take lightly.
"Being named captain really just solidified my role," professes Combs. "One of the big things that .... well, as soon as they announced that I was officially one of the captains I told myself that my peers and my teammates voted for me for the way I was. So I wasn't going to change, I wasn't going to become more verbal or more aggressive, but that I wasn't going to be the same leader that I was."
When it comes to Combs' leadership, it is often seen versus just being a mouth piece. "Who can forget his "hit" on the BC receiver on the very first series of the game, that dislodged the ball and any opportunity for it even be considered a reception. And from there, the group as whole played with a sense of resilience.
That resiliency could not be more apparent then when the "D" was put to the test on Army's last defensive series of the game. But Combs and company held BC to a three & out which gave the Black Knights' offense one last chance to pull out the ball game.
"What I was thinking as soon as I got on the field is that we're going to everything we can to get a safety," said the native of New Albany (Ind.). "Then they got a couple of yards out, but the demeanor of the team coaching staff did not change. It was like, we are going to stand here and this offense is going no further. And Bacon makes some huge plays down there, while the defensive line is doing everything they can to penetrate a way bigger offensive line."
And as the elder statesman, Combs appears to have the pulse of some of the younger defensive players in the program, but knows that the games on Saturday don't wait for you to grow up. "You hope that they gain more confidence and starting to get details right," says Combs. "For example, Bobby Kough finally came out and had a big play. As soon as that happen, I smiled because I know that he's been trying and working hard to make his way. You saw it, because after that he was flying around. I talked to him after the game and he said that. The same with Chris Carnegie. It seems now that even at practice he's lock down. He's got that confidence. And I always give Geoffrey Bacon a hard time because it seems like may mess up on blitzes from time to time, so I keep on giving him a hard time because I want him to be an even better player."
After Army scored the go ahead touchdown against BC, the Eagles had :44 second to try to pull out a miracle, but that wasn't in the script.
However, how fitting was it on Boston College's final attempt via a hook and ladder prayer, that Combs picked off the pitch and by all accounts had shot a taking it all the way, but opted to slide and call it a day.
"Yes, I purposely slid to end the game, but when I did I fail on Trim's (Justin Trimble) ankle and the first thing that came to my head was that I tried to do something right and I broke Trimble's ankle," says a laughing Combs. "But I looked back and he was already celebrating with me, so that was immediate relief and that was awesome. Obviously I wanted to score but I knew that was the right play (sliding) to do ... you make the defensive play and you go straight down."
Kent State Ready
With the BC game in the record books, along with the weekend's celebration in the rear view mirror, Combs is confident that he and his teammates will be ready for Kent State.
"I think our mindset is ready," he says. "We went in Tuesday's practice and there wasn't a sense of satisfaction at all. I think our seniors went in there and said we're not satisfied .... we want more. I that on the defensive side ball we had a great practice. The ball was out, we were making great plays and flying around. That was 'fun' to see and to know that these young guys are with us and we're about to have some more fun this Saturday."
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