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Academy notes: Army starts 3-0 behind an unlikely fullback

Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

College football fans who tuned out Army – it’s a big club, due to five straight losing seasons topped by a 2-10 disaster in 2015 – must look at this year’s 3-0 start and guess the Black Knights landed a top fullback recruit.

Through three games, sophomore Andy Davidson leads the Black Knights with 334 yards and six touchdowns. In 62 carries, he’s lost yardage on only one… for one yard.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Allentown (Pennsylvania) Emmaus averages 111.3 yards per game and 5.4 per carry. He’s steady as a bulldozer, joining the century club each week. He beat Temple with 22 carries for 121 yards, Rice with 23 for 107 and three TDs, and UTEP with 17 for 106 and one score.

He’s also as light as an all-terrain vehicle to find running room once he’s past the first level. His TD runs: Temple, 3 and 17; Rice, 13, 2 and 3; and UTEP, 33. His long runs: Temple, 19; Rice, 22; and UTEP, 33.

So who is this guy that has helped Army to its first 3-0 start since 1996? Well, he’s a converted linebacker.

“It was experimental thing at the start in the spring, but I picked up it up fast,” Davidson said. “What helped me is the B-backs (fullbacks) opened their arms to me in the B-back room. They helped me along the way. I’m grateful it happened. I’m happy to be helping the team.”

Army goes for 4-0 on Saturday at Buffalo (0-2), a Mid-American Conference school allowing 238.5 yards rushing and 379.5 total yards per game. Every week the Black Knights add to their unbeaten start to the season; the record has been noted as “the first time since 1996.” It will until continue until they top that 10-2 season’s 9-0 run out of the gates.

Davidson was a two-way player in high school, but his transition from Army freshman backup linebacker and special teams player wasn’t one of those stories about a versatile performer permitted to the play the position he prefers.

“I never expected to be a fullback in college,” said Davidson, adding that all the colleges that recruited him viewed his future at linebacker. “I thought I’d be a linebacker all four years.”

Entering the spring of 2016, Army was light on fullbacks – called B-backs in the triple-option offense – so head coach Jeff Monken dusted off some of Davidson’s high school film running the ball. He had been the team’s leading rusher despite his linebacker persona with all-state and conference MVP honors for his defensive play.

Monken felt Davidson’s instincts to avoid blockers in search of the ball carrier transferred well to carrying the ball and avoiding tacklers.

Davidson said the toughest transition was learning to take handoffs at the speed of a Division I triple-option offense. The quarterback’s first option is hand off to the fullback, but he can pull it out and run with it if the defense overplays the fullback.

He said having two experienced quarterbacks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Chris Carter, helped him navigate the learning curve.

“I’m still not where I want to be as a B-back,” he said. “Sometimes I clamped down on the ball too hard, but they know how to take it out. Then then know how to correct me.”

The scary part for Army opponents is Davidson believes he has plenty of room to improve. The defense may be forced to shift focus to Davidson inside, but the beauty of the triple-option is that it opens running lanes for the quarterback or slot backs (A-backs). When the defense compensates outside, that brings the ball back to Davidson, ready to roam.

That’s not the only reason Davidson expects continued improvement for a team seeking its first bowl trip since 2010, and its first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy against Air Force and Navy since 1996.

“We’re getting better every week,” he said. “We practice so hard. Our line has been tremendous and they’re getting better every game. I think we’ll continue to get better. I’m excited to where how far we can go the rest of the year.”

SCHEDULE NOTES

Air Force (2-0) returns from a bye week with a Mountain West Conference opener at Utah State (2-1), while Navy (3-0, 2-0 AAC West) takes a bye week following a 21-14 win at Tulane (1-2, 0-1 AAC West).

Then Air Force and Navy meet Oct. 1 in Colorado Springs in their first game of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy round-robin series with Army.

AIR FORCE TAKES FLIGHT

In Week 4, watch for an expanded Air Force passing attack that has been under wraps in one-sided wins over Alcorn State (37-21) and Georgia State (48-14).

Quarterback Nate Romine is considered a better passer than past option QBs at the academy. He has a big target in Jalen Robinette, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver. He’s been honorable mention All-MWC, but a case could be made he is a first-team talent playing in an offense that throws the ball.

He has Utah State’s respect. He caught seven balls for 210 yards and one touchdown with a long of 74 in last year’s 35-28 Air Force victory. In 2014, he grabbed four balls for 105 yards in a 34-16 victory.

10 September 2016:  Navy Midshipmen quarterback Will Worth (15) pitches out against the Connecticut Huskies at the Navy Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, MD.  (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

10 September 2016: Navy Midshipmen quarterback Will Worth (15) pitches out against the Connecticut Huskies at the Navy Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

NAVY’S QB, NEXT MAN UP

Navy has rolled on with backup quarterback Will Worth replacing starter Tago Smith following his season-opening injury.

Worth, a 6-1, 205-pounder from Valrico (Fla.) Newsome, has rushed 53 times for 212 yards and four touchdowns with a long run of 31. He’s completed 14 of 23 passes for 267 yards with one TD and no interceptions.

He was rushed onto the field with more experience holding snaps on kicks than under center. He career stats prior to the season: one incomplete pass, three carries for 10 yards, and a touchdown.

Worth, like Smith, had spent his career behind Keenan Reynolds, a four-year starter whose No. 19 was retired following the 2015 season.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to that kid,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo told the media after Worth’s first start, a win over Connecticut in the second game. “He’s like Tago – kept his mouth quiet and continued to work. He comes from a great family. In a school filled with leaders, he’s a leader amongst leaders. He’s a special young man.”

Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055

Academy notes: Army starts 3-0 behind an unlikely fullback

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