Rick Kurz knew all about the honor and responsibilities that go with being a cadet in “The Long Gray Line” at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, long before he left Cincinnati St. Xavier High School and became a plebe.
But it took a season and then some for him to realize the enormous impact the football team has on people across the United States. His awakening came after Army defeated Navy 21-17 in December for its first victory in the series since 2001.
“There were old grads thanking us and recent grads that didn’t see Army get a win over Navy getting so excited about what we had accomplished,” he said. “The history of The Long Gray Line is special. Things just came together and we finally beat Navy.”
Kurz, who will start at left offensive tackle Saturday against Ohio State, started eight games as a sophomore and in a 64-6 victory over Fordham and 21-17 victory over Buffalo this season.
Credit for the team’s turnaround, he said, should go to fourth-year coach Jeff Monken for getting the players to believe in the system and in themselves. Last season, Army finished 8-5, including a 38-31 victory in overtime over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The team hadn’t been to a bowl since 2010.
“We get after it; we push each other,” Kurz said. “We’ve built a bond in that we’re brothers, especially among the linemen. There are four other guys who play my position on the line and we just grind it out. We’ve been through adversity, and that plays a role.”
There was plenty of adversity when Army trailed Buffalo 17-7 entering the fourth quarter on Saturday at Michie Stadium in West Point. The offensive line paved the way during 16-play, 79-yard and 13-play, 66-yard drives that ended with 1-yard touchdown runs by halfback Darnell Woolfolk.
“The line did a great job of moving people back,” Monken said. “It was fourth-and-1 at the goal line on the second touchdown and they just pushed the pile.”
Kurz is a modest 6 feet 2 and 285 pounds, but said Army’s style doesn’t necessitate beefy linemen.
“Being a triple-option offense, we can kind of move people around,” he said. “I’m lucky I’ve been at tackle and not center and am not in the middle (of larger players).”
Monken was amused when asked whether Kurz was highly recruited. The answer was that he certainly was No. 1 on Army’s list, but with most Cadets he probably was not on any lists of other college teams.
“That’s a big guy for us,” he said of Kurz. “For (Ohio State), it’s small peanuts. He’s a good player for us because he has good feet and has good pad level. He came out of a school in Cincinnati that has a great program. We wanted him — he was highly recruited by us. He’s a guy who fit just what we want in an offensive lineman.”
There will be plenty of Kurz boosters in the seats on Saturday. He has never seen an Ohio State game in person, but grew up a Buckeyes fan.
“I’m very excited and will have a lot of family and friends there,” he said. “I will never forget this game.”