Oct. 31, 2012
The Army football team enters this weekend's action leading the nation in rushing yards per game. The Black Knights' prolific triple option offense has been clicking on all cylinders this season, and junior running back Raymond Maples and sophomore fullback Larry Dixon are two huge reasons why.
The fleet-footed Maples and the bruising Dixon, who have accounted for seven 100-yard rushing games between the two of them, make up half of the Black Knights' starting backfield. The dynamic duo teams with senior quarterback Trent Steelman and senior running back Malcolm Brown to form the most productive rushing attack in all of college football.
Maples, who ranks ninth on Army's career rushing ledger with 2,063 yards, lists 19th nationally this season, averaging better than 112 yards per game. The third-year playmaker from Philadelphia, Pa., has recorded four 100-yard rushing games, and scored one touchdown. He already ranks tied for fifth all-time at West Point with nine 100-yard rushing games.
"I think I have gotten better since I arrived here," said Maples. "I've gotten bigger, stronger and faster. I think I have matured as a player as well. I might not be as fast as I was as a freshman or sophomore, but I know the offense better. I know where I'm supposed to be, and that helps me with what I need to do.
Maples, who averages more than six yards per carry for his career, is pleased with his role in the offense.
"When I got here, the coaches had kind of determined that I'd be the primary ball carrier as a junior and senior, so to finally assume that role is a big deal," said Maples.
Army running backs coach Tucker Waugh, who has helped Maples develop into the force he is now, is impressed with the way the third-year back has matured, both on and off the football field.
"West Point and Raymond Maples are a great match," said Waugh. "Ray has grown tremendously since he arrived here. He has been doing great things on the football field this season. I love how he's performing, I love how he's running the ball and blocking. He blocks for his teammates, and that is what I really like as his position coach."
The thing that has Waugh most impressed, however, did not occur on the football field this fall. It actually happened this past summer during his summer training.
"The most important thing that Ray has done came this past summer when he received a tremendous grade in his summer assignment out at Camp Buckner," said Waugh. "He has really developed into what is going to become a great young officer."
Dixon, meanwhile, has emerged as a tremendous weapon from the fullback position, regularly breaking off long runs right through the middle of opposing defenses. The Bremerton, Wash., native lists third on the team with 494 rushing yards and five touchdowns this fall.
The Black Knights are on pace to shatter the Academy rushing record they established just last season. If Maples, Dixon and Steelman continue on their current pace, Army will tie an NCAA single-season record for most 1,000-yard rushers on one team (three).
"Larry is an excellent player," said Waugh. "We talk about him like he's a fifth-year senior, but he's really only a second-year guy. The sky is the limit for him. He is already a very, very good player, but he has the potential to become a great player."
Maples, who has the privilege of lining up next to Dixon throughout the season, is impressed with what the second-year fullback has been able to accomplish so far.
"Larry is a dominating force," said Maples. "I refer to him as a juggernaut. It's kind of scary to watch him run over defenders. Watching Larry run and blocking for Larry is a great pleasure."
What Maples and Dixon have accomplished already at West Point would fill up most players' career resumes. These two talented backs are just getting started, though, and that has to concern all of the teams that remain on the Black Knights' 2012 schedule.
"I love our group (of running back), and I'm very proud of what they have accomplished," said Waugh. "But we need to continue to get better. We need to do a better job, collectively, when we don't have the football. That will lead to wins, which is the only thing that's important."
As long as Maples and Dixon are around, piling up the rushing yards should not be a problem. With the determination and competitiveness of both players, stacking the wins shouldn't be an issue either.