Oct. 1, 2013
by Brian Gunning, Army Athletic Communications
If it were up to Raymond Maples' mother, Lisa, the Army football record book would like decidedly different.
The guiding force in the Army star running back's life, she was originally dead set against the idea of Raymond, the eldest of her three sons, attending the U.S. Military Academy. As is the case with most parents, Lisa worried about where and how Raymond would serve following his graduation. While a lot of guardians are won over after actually visiting West Point and learning more about the Academy's goals and missions, Raymond's mother was not quite as impressed.
"My mom was never about West Point," Maples recalls. "She was against it because all she could see was me in combat. I think that's what any mother sees. She came on my visit, but she was still really biased. When we went out to dinner she acted like she was sick and stayed in the hotel."
The decision to play for Army is one of the few times Maples disobeyed his mother, who eventually came around to the idea of her son attending the Academy. Growing up in the heart of Philadelphia, Maples's main sources of wisdom were Lisa, his grandmother and the surrounding neighborhood. Raymond still counts many of those childhood friends among his biggest supporters.
"My mother and my family around the neighborhood were my biggest influences," Maples said. "My dad left early on. He was still around for moral support, but he wasn't physically there. I had a lot of friends and family that I grew up with that replaced that void. I basically consider them my blood family. I know them better than I know some of my actual family. They helped me out a lot. They're around whenever I need them."
Being there for support is nothing new for Lisa Maples. Throughout Raymond's life she has served as a foster parent, taking in children who needed her help. Oftentimes the newcomers would stay in Raymond's room, forcing him to go down the street to his grandmother's house in order to avoid sleeping on the couch. Despite being somewhat displaced, Raymond never felt resentment or anger toward those less fortunate than him. In fact, the experience only expanded his sense of family.
"I love everyone that came through," Maples said. "I call them my brothers. I never had any hard feelings toward any of them. I enjoy all of them just as much as my little brothers."
Maples has taken the example set by his mother and put it into practice. He is the first person in his family to attend college and the first family member to serve in the military. Despite so many eyes with so many expectations watching his every move, Maples doesn't feel any more pressure than other cadets to succeed at West Point.
"It's pressure because it's West Point," Maples explained. "It's not an easy institution to succeed in. It's not pressure because I'm the first member of my family to go to college, but it's pressure because of the atmosphere of the Academy."
Raymond's journey through West Point has not been easy. He struggled adjusting from his lifestyle in Philadelphia to the demands and expectations that come with attending school on the banks of the Hudson.
"It was not a smooth transition," Maples remembered. "I struggled with that reality for awhile. I was an inner-city kid who had no intentions of ever joining the military until I got offered the chance to come to West Point. The daily life, the attention to detail and the amount of discipline that is encouraged in everything you do here are not things that I was accustomed to. When you grow up in the city, you kind of do things on the fly. You do things that you want to do and you feel good about doing. Here, you have to do things to a certain standard. That what I struggled with the most."
Maples's transformation from struggling cadet to upperclassman leader was spurred by his assignment during the summer of 2012. His story can be held as an example of the Academy accomplishing its mission to educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army. His summer experience as squad leader at Camp Buckner certainly educated, trained and inspired Maples, who is fully committed to succeeding not only on the football field, but also as an officer.
"My time at Camp Buckner made me realize that I could live the Army life," Maples said. "That was my biggest concern. I didn't know if I was fit to be a military person. You have to be a certain breed to excel here at West Point, and because I wasn't excelling like I wanted to, I started to doubt myself. That experience really opened my eyes to the fact that I'm good at that."
A normally reserved person, Maples was forced to exert himself as a leader to ensure the success of the other cadets in his squad. Just as it did growing up, the focus on helping others helped Raymond improve as an individual.
"I had nine people in my squad, and I had to monitor, teach and encourage them throughout the whole time at Buckner," Maples said. "It was the amount of attention I had to give, how I had to produce and how I had to encourage people that really helped me. I've always been a shy person, and a lot of times I got away without saying anything. I was forced to come out of my shell a little bit during that experience."
The Buckner experience leading others was another step in the personal growth he has experienced since his arrival.
"I've grown up a lot since R-Day at the prep school," Maples explained. "You have to snap out of that child mentality when you come here. If you still try to hold onto the past and be a kid, doing kid things, you'll see the exit door pretty quickly. With the simple duties you have as a plebe and all the responsibility that comes with being an upperclassman, you have no choice but to mature."
That chance to mature almost didn't happen. The winding recruiting trail that put Maples in black and gold took a detour through Richmond. A late highlight tape allowed the Black Knights the chance to get in on his recruiting before anyone else, but it was the staff's encouragement that almost turned him into the one that got away.
"Coming off of my senior season, I didn't have any offers," Maples recalled. "West Point was the first place to offer me in early January. My highlight tape got out late, and Army was my first offer. When I came up for my official visit, I was ready to commit on the spot, but they told me that I should take the rest of my visits. I went down to Richmond the next weekend and ended up de-committing to Army and committing there."
Luckily, a persuasive phone call by the coaching staff and a sit down with some of his family convinced Maples to change his mind again and re-commit to the Black Knights. He stuck with that commitment this time despite some late interest from some high-profile programs.
"After signing day, I started getting offers from programs like Arkansas, South Florida and Georgia Tech," he said. "They all wanted me to play defense. I knew I was part of their backup plan and they didn't get some of the guys they wanted on signing day. "
Also a standout safety at Philadelphia Catholic High School, the Army coaches briefly discussed playing Maples on that side of the ball. The offensive staff won out and the Army record book has never been the same.
After playing in 10 games, mostly as a backup, in 2010, he burst onto the scene with 1,066 yards as sophomore. He averaged a whopping 7.3 yards per carry as a yearling, reaching the end zone four times. Maples followed that with an even better cow season, rushing for 1,215 yards. He is one of only three Army players (Carlton Jones, Mike Mayweather) to reach the 1,000-yard mark twice in their career. Another millennium season would put him in even more elite company. Mayweather is the only Black Knight to post 1,000 yards three times.
"I'm proud of the fact that I haven't had a year where my numbers have decreased," Maples said. "I'm improving every year, and that's all you can ask for."
The one thing about his on-field performance that does bother Army's sixth all-time leading rusher is his touchdown total. Entering this afternoon's game, Maples has 2,500+ yards, but just seven rushing touchdowns. Most of that statistic can be traced to playing three years with Army's all-time rushing touchdown leader Trent Steelman. The quarterback scored 45 scores, two more than 1946 Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis.
"It does bother me a little," Maples admitted in a moment of candor. "I have between 15 and 30 people that come up for every game. They're all from Philadelphia so they talk a lot of trash. I was always good at scoring touchdowns in high school. I always had the most touchdowns. Here, I have a lot of yards, but very few touchdowns. I just stay humble about it. My time will come."
Even if he never crosses the goal line again, Maples has already made a lasting impact on the program. In addition to his production on the field, he serves as an example to never give up and trust in the West Point leadership development process.
"I want people to remember that I was humble and never really complained about anything," Maples said. "I always strove for the best. I tried to treat people with fairness and respect. As a football player, I want people to remember I had heart."
And just maybe a few more touchdowns.