Army-Navy quick hits
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: The Class of 1923 Arena, University of Pennsylvania
Outreach: Event organizers will hold a “boot camp” for veterans seeking employment Wednesday. Details here.
Rugby: Organizers will host an indoor rugby doubleheader before the football game, including a team of National Guard All-Stars.
Battleship: The teams will practice at the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial on Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Army-Navy football in Philadelphia in December means harsh weather, crowds approaching 90,000 and a rivalry that dates back well over a century.
Army-Navy arena football in Philadelphia in June has a bit less frills — it’ll be played in a 2,500-seat venue usually home to an ice hockey rink and feature just a handful of names familiar to college football fans, plus a female running back who plans to suit up for Army.
But the indoor version of the rivalry comes with a goal beyond bragging rights. The event’s sponsored in part by The Judge Group, a Philadelphia-based professional services company, and it includes a “boot camp” for veterans seeking jobs, as well as other employment resources.
Last year’s game saw Navy earn a 30-28 victory. Saturday’s game, set to air worldwide on ESPN3 at 6 p.m., seems to lean in the Mids’ favor again — nearly a dozen Naval Academy graduates will participate, including former quarterback Ricky Dobbs (team captain), wide receiver Tyree Barnes and DJ Sargenti, a 2014 graduate who was second on last year’s Annapolis team in tackles.
Reserve Capt. Alex Moore, a team captain for the Black Knights in 2002 (and for this year’s arena team), will be the only West Point grad on the Army roster.
“We have some guys that really understand the arena game,” said Moore, who left active duty in 2009 after two tours in Iraq. “We certainly don’t have the semi-pro team that Navy has assembled.”
Moore, who started for Army at guard his last two seasons, will be a bit below his academy playing weight of 295 pounds.
“I’m down to 215,” he said. “It’s been interesting getting back in football shape. Thank goodness for CrossFit.”
Now in business development with Lockheed Martin, Moore’s active in veterans’ outreach efforts through Team Red White & Blue and has enjoyed the chance to connect with his teammates, some of whom are fellow combat vets who’ve been in need of the kind of help offered by event organizers.
“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “To help some vets get some job placement, understand the problems that they’re going through. When you can make that one-on-one connection, that’s really the best thing.”
The defending champs
Former Lt. Shalimar Brazier, a standout defensive back for the Naval Academy before his 2004 graduation, said the game offers a chance for players to cross generations.
“You never really actually connected with those who came before you,” said Brazier, who coached with Navy after his playing days and now runs his own marketing company in Norfolk, Virginia. “Having the opportunity to play with those guys really means a lot.”
Some of the more experienced players set to suit up for Navy, according to the school’s website, include kicker Frank Schenk (Class of 1991) and defensive back Kevin Lewis (’98).
Brazier said most of the Navy squad has been practicing in Virginia Beach for the indoor contest. And like many of his teammates, he may not be in quite the same condition as his college days.
“I’m not too far away from where I was, but I’m not running a 4.3 [40-yard dash] anymore,” he said. “Mentally, I’m more prepared. Physically ... of course, I gained a few pounds ...”
It’s only the second time the game will be played, and it’s far from professional, but it’s another first: Jen Welter will play for Army at running back, becoming the game’s first female participant.
Welter said she’ll play to honor her father, who she said earned a Silver Star in Vietnam as a specialist 5. She last suited up earlier in June for the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League, and is recognized as the first female professional football player in a contact position (no kickers or holders need apply).
She found out about Saturday’s Army-Navy clash via AFL China, a co-sponsor of the game that’s involved with bringing arena football across the Pacific, and one of its officials, David Niu.
“He said to me, ‘You weren’t by any chance ex-Army, were you?’ ” Welter recalled. “And I said I wasn’t, but it’s very near and dear to my heart, because my dad’s an Army hero.”
Her father and mother will make the trip from Florida for the game — something they hadn’t been able to do for her Texas contests, she said.
“It’s just a testament to how important it is in my family to honor the military,” said Welter, . “I didn’t grow up with a sports hero, I grew up with an Army hero.”