Army Quarterback Toils in Obscurity
Oct. 21, 1989
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) _ As the quarterback of that other military wishbone, he operates in relative obscurity compared with Air Force's Dee Dowis, a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate.
In fact, some of Army's opponents don't even know his name.
After the Cadets crushed previously unbeaten Holy Cross 45-9 last Saturday, rolling up 493 yards rushing, Crusader linebacker Chris Maruca had nothing but praise for the Army wishbone and the backfield of Mike Mayweather, Calvin Cass, Ben Barnett and what's his name.
''Cass, Mayweather and Barnett, they've been together for a while now,'' Maruca said. ''And that quarterback, No. 9, I'm not sure what his name is, he just ran it to perfection.''
That quarterback is Bryan McWilliams, and he went through some trying times before coach Jim Young made him his starter.
As a plebe in 1987, McWilliams was one of six quarterbacks to start for the Cadets in a season that felled everyone who played the position. Young sent McWilliams in late against Rutgers in Army's seventh game that season, and he made his first start the next week against Temple.
He dislocated a finger in the first quarter and was back on the sidelines for the remainder of the year.
''I talked to Bryan the whole season, and we knew his chance would come,'' Barnett said. ''As far as having confidence in him, we always did.''
But Young continued to experiment.
''All the way through preseason last year, I was the No. 1 quarterback,'' said McWilliams, who also injured the arch on his left foot in Army's season- opener this year at Syracuse. ''And then all of a sudden, a week before the game, I was dropped down to No. 3. I had serious doubts. I thought, 'Gosh, am I ever going to play?'
''But I endured through it. I told myself, 'Well, if I ever do, I'm going to be ready,' and I stuck with it.
''When my opportunity finally came through, I said 'I'm not going to let go of it. I'm not going to let anything happen that will let me lose this spot.'''
McWilliams, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, got his chance late in the third game last season against Northwestern. After sputtering in the first half behind starter Otto Leone, the Cadets throttled the Wildcats in the second half behind McWilliams, who became the starter for the remainder of the season.
With McWilliams directing the offense, Army won seven of its final eight games, including a 28-15 triumph here over Dowis and the Falcons (McWilliams ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns) and a 20-15 victory over Navy (McWilliams scored the game-winner in the fourth quarter).
McWilliams had emerged as the leader Young had been seeking since Tory Crawford completed his career in 1987. McWilliams finished as the team's second-leading rusher behind Mayweather. He ran for 749 yards, averaged 5.4 yards a carry, scored eight touchdowns and passed for another as Army tied the school record for wins in a season with nine.
An all-state athlete at Lincoln High School in Nebraska, McWilliams nearly became a Cornhusker. He wasn't offered a scholarship but could have joined one of about 60 ''walk-on'' players.
He didn't, and now the Cornhuskers realize they let one get away.
''Recruiting is an inexact science,'' said David Gillespie, Nebraska's recruiting director. ''There's a lot of subjective opinion in recruiting, and we are certainly going to make mistakes.''
While most cadets cite West Point's history, tradition and reputation as reasons for choosing the military college life, for McWilliams the biggest attraction might have been the academy's location.
''I guess it being different than what I was used to back in Nebraska, basically, is what interested me a lot,'' McWilliams said. ''No one in my family has ever gone this far away from home. That kind of interested me, to be away from home.''
He is at home on the Michie Stadium turf, where the Cadets have won 11 in a row. The five-year military commitment after graduation in 1991 does not concern him. ''But I'm sure once I'm in the Army, I'll miss the competition,'' he said.
McWilliams credits his military training for much of his success. He says the discipline has given him mental toughness.
He said when the team went to Ireland last November to play Boston College, ''I had two big papers due, and they don't give you extensions. So, I'm on the plane with the laptop computer trying to write my papers. It's crazy. You would think they would give us time off, but they don't.''
Although the Cadets (3-2) sputtered offensively this season in losses at Syracuse and Duke, what's-his-name and the rest of the backfield are in high gear. Air Force still leads the nation in rushing, but Army has moved up to sixth place with an average of 346 yards.
It hasn't been easy.
''This season is tough because people are gunning for us,'' McWilliams said. ''It's challenging to become better and have the season we want.''