The following feature story appeared in the Army vs. VMI Football Game Day program on Oct. 30 and was written by Christian Anderson.
WEST POINT, N.Y. - Patrick Mealy is not your prototypical triple option slotback. In fact, Mealy did not even envision playing in the triple option offense when he arrived at West Point in the fall of 2007. Mealy, who racked up over 1,500 yards and scored 27 touchdowns during a standout senior season at DeMatha High School, was recruited by former Army head coach Stan Brock to be a part of the Black Knights’ pro-style offense.
Mealy spurned more than a couple Atlantic Coast Conference schools in order to attend West Point and play football for Army.
“(My decision) came down to my future,” reflects Mealy. “You have a great opportunity to make something of yourself when you come out of an institution like West Point. My high school coach helped me come to that decision and it’s been a pretty good one so far.”
While his decision has certainly panned out, it has been a long and winding road for the Hyattsville, Md., native.
After spending a season at the United States Military Academy Prep School (USMAPS), Mealy entered the Army program determined to make an impact, and he began to leave his mark as a plebe during the 2007 season. He played in 11 of the Black Knights’ 12 contests that year and ranked second on the team in both rushing attempts (94) and rushing yards (302).
Mealy seemed poised to take over an even bigger role in Army’s offense as a sophomore, but it was during that 2008 season that the Black Knights’ coaching staff began to implement the triple option offense. As a result, Mealy saw his workload and production decrease as he learned the intricacies of the unique offensive attack.
“I was definitely fighting (the transition),” says Mealy. “It was a big change for me in terms of how the offense is run and the type of runners that are in this offense. I had to get into better shape and I had to lose a little bit of weight. Those were definitely the biggest things that I had to deal with.”
By the time 2009 rolled around, Army had a new head coach as Rich Ellerson was brought on board. Mealy, who had become quicker and was more familiar with the triple option, hit his stride as one of the Black Knights’ starting slotbacks, finishing his junior campaign with 673 rushing yards and three rushing scores.
Mealy has continued to excel in his role as a senior this fall, although a nagging injury has curtailed some of his production. He enters Saturday’s game versus VMI ranked fifth on the team in rushing yards (211) and rushing touchdowns (two).
Mealy’s transition did not happen by accident. In addition to improving his fitness, Mealy spent countless hours studying film in order to hone his running technique. Despite the success he has had over the last year and a half, Mealy still tries to soak up as much information about the offense as possible.
“I’m constantly learning,” says Mealy. “I watch other guys who ran before me. I watch other teams who run (the option) to see what they do, and try to implement some of the styles they have.”
That he was able to make the transition from a pro-style running back to a triple option slotback in just one year was not lost on his position coach Tucker Waugh.
“Patrick was recruited to play in the pro-style offense, and he played very well as plebe for us,” says Waugh, who has helped Mealy understand the nuances of the triple option attack. “He helped us win a couple of games during his freshman season, but it took him about a full year to transition into an option running back. He has fully bought into the offense and the program, and I think it has been a fantastic transition. He’s a great option back for us.
“He brings really good energy every time he steps onto the football field,” adds Waugh. “He’s a great hustle player who is always doing the right thing as fast as he can do it. We are a much better offense when he is on the field.”
While Mealy’s impact on the field has been great, that does not begin to explain the type of impact he has had on the Army football program.
Mealy, the only senior in his position group, has developed into the unquestioned leader of the slotbacks. His influence on the development of sophomores Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs and freshman Raymond Maples should not be underestimated.
“Patrick is a fantastic leader,” says Waugh, who has seen Mealy develop throughout his West Point career. “As the only senior in his position group, I count on him to act as a mentor to the younger guys and to serve as an assistant coach on the field. He is always there to say something to Raymond Maples or Malcolm Brown. He leads by example and does everything the way a coach would like it to be done, and the other guys fall in line.”
Cobbs, who leads the team with a 6.8 yards per carry average, looks to Mealy for support both on and off the field.
“Patrick is a great upperclassman to learn from,” says Cobbs. “He will help out anybody who asks. He’s just a great leader. He takes care of us underclassmen and acts like a big brother to us all.”
Mealy seems to relish his role as one of the team’s leaders.
"It’s been a long road,” says Mealy. “I just share with them my experiences at West Point and help them any way that I can. They help me stay focused as well. It’s a two-fold type of thing. I have to maintain a higher standard because I have them watching me. It’s almost like being a coach, seeing them out there. They’ve been doing very well.”
Ellerson, who witnessed Mealy diligently prepare for his senior season, sees the fourth-year slotback as one of the most influential members of this year’s team.
“(Patrick) is absolutely one of the leaders on our football team, particularly with that group of relatively young guys touching the ball,” says Ellerson. “Everybody else touching the ball is a freshman or a sophomore. He is the wily old veteran. He is absolutely the go-to guy for them, both on the field and in the corps. He is a tremendous leader.”
The fact that Mealy has developed into such a leader within the corps is a bit of a surprise as well. When he arrived at West Point, Mealy was a bit wary of the Army side of things.
His transition was eased a bit in the football locker room, where he looked up to upperclassmen like Mike Viti and Collin Mooney.
“It was a tough road in the beginning, but to be around guys like Mike Viti and Collin Mooney as a freshman definitely helped me make that transition both in the corps and on the team,” says Mealy. “Having guys like that around made it easier for me. I still talk to Mike, who is over in Afghanistan, at least once a week. It still means a lot to me to hear his words of encouragement.”
Whatever Viti and Mooney told him has worked, because Mealy has developed into an ambassador for the Academy in every way.
“Patrick is a classic example of why the West Point process is such a good process,” says Waugh. “He came in as a pretty good high school football player, but was not too sure about the Army. The transformation he has gone through since his freshman year is unbelievable. Now, I consider him a great representative of West Point in all regards. You could send him out to talk about becoming an Army officer, or about the academics or about the football program. He does a fantastic job in all three phases.”
An unselfish player, who always puts team goals in front of his own, Mealy lists the improvement within the program as the one thing he is most proud of since arriving at West Point.
As he looks at the remainder of the schedule, his objectives are clear.
“As a team, we want to continue to win,” says Mealy. “For me personally, now that I’m healthy, it’s time for me to turn it up a little bit and dominate my position.”
Waugh is optimistic that Mealy will be a big part of the Black Knights’ offensive gameplan down the stretch.
“If he’s healthy, I expect Patrick to be highly involved in the offense the rest of the way,” says Waugh. “He will be a huge part of what we do, and I believe he will play the best football of his career in the second half of the season.”
Mealy and his fellow seniors have been talking about leaving a successful legacy at West Point ever since they were at USMAPS together. Now, with just a handful of games left in their Army football careers, they are more committed than ever to making that goal a reality.
“The majority of the senior class went to the prep school together, and all we used to talk about when we entered the doors of West Point was leaving a winning legacy,” says Mealy. “As of right now, it seems like we’re living up to it. We just want to stay focused and press hard and finish down the stretch.”
With leaders like Mealy helping to guide the Black Knights, finishing the job should not be an issue.