Army, Burr Star Maples Still Will Lead Ground Attacks
Underclassmen hit spring practice to hone skills made a little dusty by the off-season, and to prepare for increased roles on their team. Seniors, hopefully, prepare for the next level be it college- or for a few lucky ones, professional football.
Second Lieutenant Raymond Maples, the two-time FBS 1,000 yard rusher and West Catholic prep standout, will be preparing this spring too: in the United States Army’s Basic Officer Leaders Course.
“I start the 25th of January,” said Maples. “I head to Fort Benning in Georgia and I’ll be doing armor so I’ll be a tank commander. I’ll be there probably until August and after that my station will be Fort Irwin in California at the National Training Center.”
Maples will not be preparing to defeat college or pro teams. He and his fellow West Point graduates will be preparing to defeat ISIS, Al-Qaeda and whatever else threatens America.
He will also give the cliché “built like a tank” a very real twist.
Maples graduated from West Point in December. It completes a remarkable journey for a talented young man…a journey that started on a remarkable high school football team.
The 2008 West Catholic Burrs brutalized opponents. West went 14-2, mercy ruling ten opponents, including their first round foe in the PIAA State playoffs. The Burrs won their next two playoff games by at least 23 points, before stunningly falling in double overtime to Wilmington 35-34 in the PIAA Class AA State Final.
“West Catholic is known for excellence in football and to be a part of that group that started that whole thing,” Maples remembers. “(I remember) the teams we played and how badly we used to beat teams.”
The former Burr has an encyclopedic recall of facts and figures. “To see the guys I played with doing great things like Rob Hollomon- he holds the all-time rushing record at Central Connecticut and to see Jaelen Strong, who is now at Arizona State and will enter the NFL draft this year,” Maples continued. “David Williams is going to South Carolina. You have Bruce Mapp at Coastal Carolina and who is their leading receiver.”
Maples himself was part of a unique tri-headed rushing monster: the senior was one of three West Catholic backs that season to rush for 1,100 yards and score 15 touchdowns. Future Penn State starter Curtis Drake was West’s most versatile athlete. To borrow a phrase from Maples’ future alma mater, Hollomon played “Mr. Outside” to Maples’ “Mr. Inside.”
“It was a running offense. I was more of the pounder,” Maples recalled. “I hit them from the inside a lot. Rob was the quick speed guy who could get to the outside and then you had Curtis Drake who could do it all. We had a great compliment and that is how our offense operated so smoothly.
“The Burrs won a state championship two years later. There was a lot of talent on that team that you are really seeing, especially coming from a small school like West Catholic. I definitely appreciated playing there.”
Despite his size- 6’1” 220 pounds, and speed, Maples remarkably was recruited late, not getting a Division I offer until after the season ended.
“West Point was actually the first Division I offer that came,” he stated. “That was a very special moment for me for them to come through the way they did.”
Other Division I offers followed West Point, but most teams wanted Maples to play safety. Army was clear that they wanted Maples as a running back, which is where Maples wanted to play at the next level.
“I did my research on them. I visited the campus,” Maples noted. “The reason I chose West Point is not only is the football Division I but the academics are one of the those things that you can’t really compare to any of the universities out there. I think it was at the top of the Forbes list every year since 1990. It is a very special campus. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Maples was on his way to successfully completing perhaps the most demanding program in college football. The service academies have an acceptance rate equal to, if not smaller than, the Ivy Leagues. Acceptance is incredibly difficult.
Maples spent his first year at USMAPS- Army’s prep school. That helped to acclimate him and other Cadets for the rigors of West Point. He described:
“You wake up at 6:30 or 6:45 every day. Breakfast is at 7:00. 7:30 is the first class for everybody. Unless you are a senior, you are usually taking between 19 to 23 credit hours a semester so you’re basically in class between 7:30 and 3:45 every day. After that, we’ll go to football practice and you’re there until about eight. That includes, practice, lifting and film.
“A typical cadet after class will go to drill or the competitive intermural sports that they have to participate in. After that, they are free to do what they want. But,” he chuckled, “it’s a pretty tight schedule.”
It wasn’t tight enough to prevent Maples from thriving on the football field. As a freshman, he helped Army to a 7-6 record and a 16-14 win over SMU at the Armed Forces Bowl.
“That we hadn’t gone to a bowl since 1996,” Maples pointed out, “to be able to go to that game and come up with the win meant a lot for the program.”
Maples was the third Army sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards; his 7.3 yards per carry that season set an Army record.
In 2012, Maples rushed for 1,215 yards, becoming the third back in Army history to break 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He was honored as the Independent Offensive Player of the Week in September 2012 for his touchdown catch and 140 yards rushing on just 15 carries against Wake Forest. Six weeks later, Army would knock off rival Air Force in a game that featured Maples’ favorite college play.
The back had caught a pass that would eventually go for a 53-yard touchdown against the Falcons. “I was running down the sideline and I had an Air Force defender try to tackle me,” Maples recalled. “He stepped in the way. I could have probably juked him and scored but I decided to impose my will on him. I ran him over, and a chipped piece of his helmet fell off! We probably watched that film about 15 times. It was a great feeling.”
It is appropriate that Army, whose reason for existence is to defend America on the ground, perennially has one of the best ground attacks in Division I. Army ranked second in the country in rushing yards in 2011 and first in 2012.
Army’s bread and butter is the triple option. It takes discipline to stop, and the deceptions and misdirection drive TV cameramen bonkers. Maples broke down a basic triple option play:
“We call it Jim; it is predicated off of Coach Jim Young, who first ran the triple option. When you get to the line as a running back, you’re looking at the defense. You see if you have four defenders outside- that includes the end, the outside linebacker, the safety and the corner,” Maples explained.
“Basically, you’re going to leave the defensive end and the outside linebacker unblocked, because they are the main keys to the pitch key. Then your job is to block the corner and the safety. You communicate with the receiver, and your receiver will determine who to block depending on the depth of the safety. If the safety is up, he’ll go block him. If the safety is back, you’re going to send the running back to him. There are a lot of things going on,” he laughed, “but everybody is on the same page with it.”
Maples closed his 2012 season with maybe the most bittersweet game of his life. The fierceness of the Army-Navy rivalry needs no explanation nor does Navy’s recent dominance after a century of parity. While Navy has a win streak, it doesn’t mean that the Midshipmen have dominated every game however.
The 2012 contest was held at Lincoln Financial Field, just blocks from where Maples grew up. Army was 2-9. Heavily favored Navy was 7-4.
“It was great from the simple fact that I am from Philadelphia and I probably had 20 people there with me,” Maples remembered. “And for the Army-Navy game, to have that many people there is a lot since the game is always sold out.”
Maples did his part, rushing for 156 yards on 27 carries. Navy rallied to score a go-ahead touchdown to give the Middies a 17-13 lead with 4:41 left. Army, like they do, marched…from their own 17 to the Navy 13. Maples personally had two carries for nine yards on the drive. But the Black Knights fumbled at the Navy 13 with barely a minute left. Navy recovered and that was the ball game.
“To get down and that close to winning,” Maples paused, “I can’t even describe that feeling. To have a good drive going in the last quarter and last minute and then to fumble the ball…it hurt. We still talk about it today. It’s one of those experiences that you can never get back but I am thankful for the opportunity. I just wish we had held on to that ball.”
While the loss was bitter, Maples entered his senior season with the chance to be the Academy’s second ever back-to-back-to-back 1,000 yard rusher. Maples picked up 84 yards on just 12 carries in Army’s second game against Ball State. But the next week, as the Black Knights hosted Stanford, Maples hurt his groin and was out for the season.
He went home to rehab, even spending time working as a clerk in Family Dollar, a job “that definitely put things into perspective,” Maples told the Capital Gazette on December 14th. “It made me appreciate the opportunity I had even more. Just to experience what it was like working for minimum wage was humbling.”
The NCAA gave Maples a fifth year of eligibility; he averaged over seven yards on 52 touches in 2014 before his December graduation ended his Army football career. Maples became just the second member of his family to graduate from college. He also graduated with a stunning career 6.0 yards per carry.
When you go to the service academies, you know that two things are not a short-term option. The first is the NFL. The second is reluctance in serving your country. The Maples family are no strangers to service. Mom Lisa routinely took in foster children when Raymond was young.
Maples was able to choose his station. “I picked tanks because at West Point, you get the opportunity to do so many different things. My initial thoughts were that I didn’t want to have anything to do with combat life,” he admitted. “At West Point, you get the chance to do an internship with an Army unit and see what it is like as an officer. When I visited, I was thinking about transportation or a quartermaster but when I got down there, I realized it wasn’t exactly for me.”
He smiled, “It was a lot of meetings and presentations and a lot of office hours. I met with some people and had the opportunity to go with a tank group in Fort Bragg, NC. I got to see what they did out on the field and I really got into it. I liked the tanks and the big guns.”
Maples penned an inspiring story while a cadet. He now enters the next chapter of his story, one dedicated to serving and defending the freedoms we hold dear and frankly, take for granted. Army might not be a pipeline to the NFL, but more importantly it produces hoards of first round draft picks in the game of life. The experiences also create a tie unique among college football players.
“We go through so much at the Academy together that you have no way to not be close to some people,” Maples observed. “In West Point, everything is out in exposure. You see people in their hardest times struggling. Those are the people seeing you in your hardest times struggling. That brings together a type of bond that you can’t necessarily describe. Some of the people on the team will be the closest friends in my life. It’s a very special bond.”
There is one other anecdote about Maples that bears repeating. As he was investigating, and turning away from becoming a quartermaster, he said, “ I kind of realized that I wanted to be on the field.”
You can’t keep a great running back off the field.
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