PHILADELPHIA — In a season in which victories have been a rarity for the Army football team, the one constant has been elevated production from quarterback Trent Steelman, who will play in the final game of his record-setting career on Saturday afternoon here against Navy at Lincoln Financial Field.
Over 11 games this year, Steelman has amassed 1,152 rushing yards, the most in a single season for a Black Knights quarterback, and his 16 rushing touchdowns are the most for a quarterback in one season at West Point. The four-year starter also ranks first all-time at Army in rushing yards for a quarterback (3,224) and holds the school’s career mark with 44 rushing touchdowns.
“I’ve always been a stronger runner than I have anything else,” said Steelman, who selected Army because it was his only offer from a school that at the time was in the Football Bowl Subdivision. “To be able to come here and play in an offense like this, it’s helped me expose my talents a lot as opposed to any other type of offense.”
Steelman enters the 113th Army-Navy game playing the best football of his career, although the Black Knights (2-9) have lost their most recent two games by an average of 26 points. Steelman’s five consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards are an Army record, and he’s reached 100 rushing yards in six of his last seven games, including a career-high 212 in a 48-38 loss to Eastern Michigan on Oct. 20.
The highlight of his career so far came two weeks later when he directed a 41-21 win over Air Force at Michie Stadium. Steelman ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns in his first and only victory over a service academy opponent, ensuring that the winner of Saturday’s matchup against the Midshipmen would capture the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Army has not claimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996 and has won it just twice in the last 25 years.
“He’s a great player,” Navy senior linebacker Brye French said of Steelman. “He knows how to run the option very well. He’s very athletic. I’d say he’s kind of like Kriss Proctor [Navy’s starting quarterback last season]. He’s fast, and he knows exactly where the ball’s got to go. He runs their offense very well, and it’s going to be tough trying to contain him.”
Still, in spite of all Steelman’s statistical accomplishments, his résumé by his own admission remains incomplete after losing to Navy each of the last three years. Last season’s 27-21 loss was particularly disheartening considering Army had driven to the Navy 28 in the final five minutes with an opportunity to score the go-ahead touchdown.
But Midshipmen linebacker Matt Warrick sacked Steelman on second down, and on fourth down Warrick again swooped in for a sack, and Navy took over with 4 minutes 29 seconds to play before running out the clock.
In three games against Navy, Steelman’s best rushing performance was 19 carries for 74 yards in 2010, when he also completed 11 of 20 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 loss. Steelman’s has averaged 3.6 yards per carry against Army, a half yard below his career average and nearly a full yard lower than his average against Air Force.
Army has lost to Navy (7-4) a series-record 10 consecutive times.
“Trent’s challenge is to stay within himself and make sure he’s just playing the game and being Trent because that’s when he’s his best,” said Army Coach Rich Ellerson, adding it’s difficult to quantify what Steelman has meant to the football program. “He doesn’t have to come out and have an out-of-body experience to be a fierce competitor or a good football player. He’s all of that.”