Baltimoreans have different roles in history of Army-Navy

Football: Navy's Ralph Henry has a last chance to get his first real opportunity in the storied rivalry, and Army's Walter Hill will get his first taste of the tradition-rich series.

December 05, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

For Ralph Henry, the 104th Army-Navy game tomorrow is his last and very nearly his first. For Walter Hill, it is his first and most certainly not his last.

The two Baltimore-bred players, one a senior in Annapolis, the other a plebe at West Point, will bring diametrically opposite perspectives onto Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field tomorrow, with both hoping to make a distinct impact on the outcome.

The Army-Navy experience is the one career highlight that has virtually eluded Henry, the veteran who is listed to start at defensive end for the Midshipmen.

"I messed up my ankle last season and they threw me in for like two or three plays at the end of the game," said the Eastern Tech alumnus. "I didn't even make a tackle."

That setback came on the heels of a plebe year in which Henry played only on junior varsity and a sophomore year when a knee ligament sidelined him after eight games.

"When I was at NAPS [Naval Academy Prep School], I said, `I've got four Army-Navy games to go,' and I still haven't hit anybody. But I've been on the field all three years and I understand what this game means to people around the world," said Henry, who has appeared in all 11 games this season and accounted for 16 tackles.

Conversely, Hill doesn't quite know what might occur in his initial taste of what has been called America's greatest athletic rivalry.

"You don't know what to expect," said the native of Randallstown and graduate of St. Paul's. "You hear a lot about it, but I don't know much about it at all. Everybody's been telling me to stay within the guidelines, to remember that it's a big game, but not to get lost in the hype."

Hill gets extensive action in the Black Knights' passing game as the backup to co-captain Clint Woody at wide receiver, often serving as a messenger to bring in plays. He has enjoyed a fine first season with 16 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown.

He said the local rivalry between St. Paul's and Boys' Latin is "sort of our Army-Navy," but he has not been involved in a game with 70,000-plus people in the stadium, national television and radio audiences, and worldwide exposure via the Internet.

Via telephone, Hill sounded almost surprised to be at West Point. "I really didn't picture myself here," he said. "Cadet basic training [Army's equivalent of Navy's plebe summer] was pretty rough, but I've made it this far. What gets a lot of people now is the academics."

A victory over Navy (7-4) for the 0-12 Black Knights "definitely would make our season," Hill added. "That can't salvage all the other games, but it would sure make us feel a lot better."

Army, Hill pointed out, has practiced this week while snow fell in upstate New York. "Bad weather would work into our favor," he said.

Said Henry: "I'm not too excited about bad weather. But I'd rather have it snow than rain. It's easier to play in. I just want to play, period. I was real hurt [emotionally] last year. I kept saying to myself, `I did it again.' I don't want to jinx myself talking about it. But this year I've been blessed. I'm finally getting in."

To a senior or a plebe, that's what matters most.

NOTE: Navy's leading tackler, safety Josh Smith, has been declared out of the game after undergoing an appendectomy Wednesday night. The junior has been credited with 95 tackles, including five for loss, and has three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Plebe DeJuan Price will start in Smith's spot.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (7-4) vs. Army (0-12)

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Navy by 22 1/2

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