Army tackle Ryan Alexander reflects on bond with brothers, Army-Navy game, playing for service academy
One of the longest-running rivalries in college football kicks off Saturday at noon ET on CBS when Army and Navy meet for 116th time. The Midshipmen have won every game since 2001, outscoring the Cadets 400–132. But Army senior tackle Ryan Alexander says that nothing before or after Saturday matters, and so he likes his 2–9 team's chances of upsetting 9–2 Navy, even though the Cadets are 22-point underdogs. Before playing in his last college game, Alexander caught up with Campus Rush.
Lindsay Schnell: Besides Army-Navy, what is your favorite sports rivalry and who do you root for?
Ryan Alexander: I would have to say the Canadian High School vs. Stratford High School in the Texas Panhandle.
LS: And you went to Canadian, so I'm guessing you root for the Wildcats.
RA: That's right.
LS: I wondered if, when you tell people you're from Canadian High School, they assume that means you're actually Canadian and then ask if you like hockey or something.
RA: (Laughs.) Some people tease me about that. I've never even seen a hockey game.
LS: You played on two state championship teams at Canadian High. How does the passion of Texas high school football compare with the passion of the Army-Navy rivalry?
RA: As passionate as Texas high school football is, and it is everything down there, I don't think anything comes close to the Army-Navy rivalry, at least that I've seen.
LS: Wow. How would you describe the Army-Navy rivalry to someone who hasn't experienced it?
RA: That's tough. I don't think I have the right words. A lot of things go into it, it means a lot to a lot of people. Coming to West Point, it's all you hear about, especially being a football player. It's kind of like everything you work for comes down to one day. At least that's how it seems to me.
LS: You used to be defensive end, so you have a unique perspective: In what you've seen of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, what makes him so good?
RA: He executes so well, and he runs their offense so well. He really gets them going. Obviously a tremendous player and a tremendous athlete, too, but I think it's his execution, that's what sets him apart.
LS: You rank eighth in the country in rushing offense, with 254 yards per game. Why would an aspiring college receiver want to come play in your offense?
RA: (Laughs.) For the guys on the team. Me and my teammates, we're so close. I think it would be a shame for anybody to miss out on this kind of bond. And our offense opens things up a little bit. Our receivers get the ball and they have other opportunities to make plays. But mostly I think it's the opportunity to be with the other guys on the team, that's a reason for someone to come here.
LS: You also rank seventh in fewest penalties per game. Does that speak to the discipline required at a service academy?
RA: I actually didn't know that, but I guess that's a good way to spin it. So I'm going to go with that.
LS: Senior seasons are often about reflection. With that in mind, what's been the highlight of your football career?
RA: I think this whole season. Just playing with my buddies, these guys on my team, especially the ones I went to prep school with, they're closer to me than anybody in the whole world. I think everything we've done together—from workouts to summer training, to them helping me study for school—has brought us so close. Every moment spent with them [is a highlight].
LS: What's the most interesting class you've taken at West Point?
RA: Hmm, that's a tough one. I'd have to go with Combatives, because we learn how to fight.
LS: That sounds intense. Can you give me some details?
RA: It's kind of like MMA, but you don't do any head shots because it's a class. It was definitely eye-opening, to go against dudes you're bigger than, guys you think you should push around and then they do something crazy and all of a sudden you're in an arm bar. But it was a lot of fun. It's definitely a lot easier for me to pay attention in classes like that than it is in Calculus II.
LS: Your summers are different than most. Other college football players spend the summer weight training; you spend yours in training. What does that involve, and how does it help you on the football field?
RA: It involves a lot of things, from land navigation to marksmanship to things like marching, and other discipline-related deals. But the thing that helps and carries over to the football field is the camaraderie and working together with other people. Making plans and following through with your plans, reacting in situations where it's high-stress, I think it's all related to football, so it carries over a lot. Or maybe it's football [that] carries over to that.
LS: Your bio says you were a sprinter on your high school track team. How does somebody go from being a sprinter to being a defensive end to being a offensive lineman?
RA: (Laughs.) Well, I wasn't a very good sprinter is what that should tell you. I was very mediocre. There's not a whole lot of world-class sprinters coming out of the Texas Panhandle. I wasn't anywhere near the top.
LS: Why the switch from defensive end to offensive lineman?
RA: I think it was just because some guys got injured and the coaches thought I'd be able to contribute more on the offensive side of the ball. [They've been] really patient with me and they've really coached me up. It took me a while; I'm still a work in progress. The fact that I was able to make that transition speaks to the coaches and players we have here who help me out, because I definitely needed the help.
LS: Did you have to change your body dramatically, put on a lot of weight?
RA: (Laughs.) I've been trying. I'm still not the biggest dude in the world [at 6'1", 250 pounds]. I'm trying to put on more by eating large pizzas at night, but the coaches still rag on me for being to skinny.
LS: I've read that you have to graduate at a certain weight for your military service, so maybe it's a good thing you don't have to lose a bunch now that football is almost over.
RA: We have to pass all our Army physical fitness tests and body composition tests. Some guys on the team will have more weight to lose than others. You can't be a big dude who can't run two miles in the Army. [We've] got some buddies who have to drop some pounds.
LS: Sounds like the days of eating a large pizza for dinner are soon to end.
RA: Yeah, like in three days!
LS: You'll graduate this spring as a 2nd lieutenant, as all West Point grads do, and you have to serve at least five years of active duty. You've received your branch assignment. What branch are you going into, and do you have a "dream job" within the military?
RA: I'm branched into infantry. That was my first choice, so I'm really excited about that. From then on, obviously I want to do the things that an infantry officer does, like go to Ranger school and deploy and all that. From there, I'll just see how I like the Army, but I don't have any plans of doing anything after it. I'm just going to go do my best and the rest will take care of itself.
LS: My next question was going to be, When you're done with active duty, do you have plans or hopes? But it sounds like you're open to the possibility of the Army being a full-time career.
RA: Right. I'm open to anything. I'm not making any plans to get out or stay in, just gonna go with the flow.
LS: Your dad was not in the military, but your grandfather served during World War II—did you always want to follow in his footsteps?
RA: No. Honestly, I never wanted to go into the military until I was recruited by West Point. I didn't even think about it; I just wanted to play college football. The way I grew up in the Texas Panhandle, always outside, with my friends, when I came up here [to visit West Point] it felt like a good fit. All of the sudden it kind of clicked: This is what I want to do. And I couldn't be happier with my decision.
LS: Obviously, Army football sometimes targets recruits who have a military tradition in their family. But it also recruits kids who are completely new to the idea of the military. If you were a recruiter, what would your pitch be? Why should someone want to sign up to play football at West Point, and then serve their country?
RA: Definitely the bond you get with the people around you. I think that changes everything, whenever you know you're doing something not for you, but for your brother, your teammate, your squad leader. Once I figured that out, then I was really set on it.