With only four games remaining for in the Black Knights' season, a variety of players have stepped up so far this year. GoBlackKnights.com takes a look at the Hot 11 for the first three quarters of the schedule to see who has stood out.
1. Josh McNary, DE
Certainly the biggest reason why the Black Knights' defense has been the highlight of the season. Simply put, McNary has consistently good from game one and has not let up. His 10.5 sacks are tied for 2nd in the country. He has also set two Army football records this season; the 6-foot-0, 225 pounder had a career day with record 4 sacks and he has 16.5 for his career, which elevate him to the top of the record books. McNary's talents consist of being both athletic and physically, which is often a nightmare for the typically bigger offensive tackles, especially in passing situations. He's not just a pass rusher though as he has shown the ability to stretch the field with his outstanding speed and athleticism and has been effective against the rush. On the season he has 16.5 TFL, 2 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery and 1 forced fumble. At times, he has been unblockable and seems determined to have his best year. McNary has proven to be one of the top pass rushers in nation this season
2. Donovan Travis, FS
If there was nickname to be associated with Travis' first half season play, you wouldn't be out of turn if you called him Mr Clutch. Throughout the first half of the season, Army fans were becoming accustomed to Travis being in the right place at the right time. His game winning interception for a touchdown against Ball State is a reminder of his ability to make things happen defensively. He is 16th in the nation with 4 interceptions and the free willing safety pulled down his 5th pick of the season against Temple, but saw the play nullified on a questionable non-tip-ball penalty. As solid as the junior has been against the pass, he is very physical and has a nose for the ball. He is second on the team in tackles with 51.
3. Stephen Anderson, MLB
It took Anderson the first couple of games to get comfortable and up to speed with his new position, schemes and his responsibilities, as he was playing more robotic versus instinctively. However, once the light bulb finally went off, so did Army's leading tackler, who has registered 67 tackles on the season, 6.5 TFL, 2 pass breakups and 1 fumble recovery. One thing that statistics cannot measure is leadership and that is a quality that Anderson has. The junior captain is both an emotional trend setter, as well as allowing his play on the field to set the tone. It doesn't matter if Army is ahead or behind in the game, the middle linebacker won't stop until the final whistle.
4. Trent Steelman, QB
You could say that this season has been the freshman quarterback's right to passage college football season. This tough as nails signal caller, who can't weigh anymore than 180 pounds, has taken the opponents best shots, and continues to endure. As the leader of Army's triple option, his decision making has progressively gotten better from game to game, and he has become a genuine threat with the ball and someone that defensive coordinators have to prepare for. Although Steelman's passing has not been anything to write home about, on the season, he has rushed for a team leading 536 yards and 3 touchdowns.
5. Andrew Rodriguez, LB
Unlike his nickname (A-Rod) namesake, this sophomore linebacker is unassuming and came into the season as a under the radar talent. When it was realized that Rod Murray would not be playing this season, Rodriguez took advantage of the opportunity and hasn't looked back. He is 4th on the team in tackles, but also seems to find a way to be in the right place, at the right time. In the Vanderbilt contest, his timely strip of the ball on the one yard line on an apparent touchdown run by running back Zac Stacy that would have put the Commodores up by 7 in overtime. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback
and the break that Army needed to eventually record their win over Vandy. A-Rod continues to show the smarts of a heady player and compliments Anderson well when it comes to style of play. As a first year starter, he has grown and evolved to be a consistent performer.
6. Mario Hill, CB
Hll continues to be the stalwart of the cornerbacks. He came out of the gate this season playing very aggressive pass coverage, which resulted in a few early season pass interference calls, which were questionable. But that did not stop the senior defender from having the best coverage of any of the defensive backs thus far. There have been a couple of moments where Hill has been beaten, such as the exceptional catch by Tulane's talented wide receiver Jeremy Williams, but overall, the senior cornerback has not allowed a big play to his side of the field. He's also been a solid tackler on the edge, as he covers the wide side of the field from his field corner position, where he has posted twenty tackles to go along with his two interceptions, five pass breakups and one forced fumble on the year so far.
7. Patrick Mealy, RB
Mealy has had his recent struggles, but in the first few games of the season, he was the offense. And to his credit, he has been bounced from slot back to B-back, due to the injury to starting fullback, CeDarius Williams, and the chance for the staff to get players like frosh Lonnie Liggins reps at slot back. Of all the backs, he is the hardest runner and is second on the team in rushing with 444 yards and a 6.8 average, that leads the team.
8. Ali Villanueva, WR
We're stretching here, but sometimes you have to. Villanueva has clearly had his struggles lately, and it was very apparent in Saturday's game against Rutgers. However, that does accurately reflect on his first three quarters of the year's development and contribution. During that segment the campaign, Villanueva proved he can be a factor in this offense, catching seven balls for 70 yards. His biggest grabs came with 2:28 left in the 1st half of the Ball State game. Faced with a 3rd & 20, Steelman drifted a pass to the 6-foot-10 receiver. Villanueva was able to maintain his concentration when it appeared that the ball would head the ground and Army's drive was still alive. It also resurrected the crowd of 25,646 and gave the Black Knights some momentum.
On 1st & 10 and with 2:05 remaining, Steelman pulled off an impressive play action fake and hit a wide open Villanueva on a 24 yard touchdown.
But throughout the 1st half of the season, the senior captain has pulled down some impressive, as well as clutch passes. On the season he has 16 receptions for 253 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is the only Black Knight to score a touchdown via a reception.
9. Mike Gann, DT
If he stays healthy, Gann's ¾'s of season's production could prove to be the launching pad for an outstanding balance of the season. Where it appears that some players are feeling and performing tired, Gann give the sense that he has his second wind and is ready to go. It has really been the latter part of first half where the junior tackle's performance started to pick up.
He has proven to be a key cog in the middle for the Black Knights, particularly against the run this season, where he has accumulated 23 tackles, along with four tackles for losses.
10. Brad Marren, DE
Marren is probably the biggest surprise on the defense this season, if not the team overall. Prior to the installation of the Ellerson's Swarm defense, for the most part, the senior was regulated to watching football for the past three seasons on the sidelines. His numbers don't jump off the charts, but he has had a productive first half of the season and the underrated hybrid defensive end has provided a key spark to the defense up to this point in the season.
11. Seth Reed, RG
While the offensive line continues to be a work in progress and as recently as two weeks ago, they were still putting pieces to the puzzle together with the insertion of Fritz Bentler (previously injured) to the left side, there have been a few bright spots. One of which is guard Seth Reed, who along Jason Johnson, form the strength of the offensive line.
Reed has been playing great all season, and has graded out well when it comes to his techniques and production. The 6-foot-1, 275 pound junior is typically matched up against much bigger defensive tackles, but is one of the reasons that Army is ranked 9th in the nation in rushing offense.
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