West Point offered Ja’Quail Haskins a promising career in the Army and opened a door to the rest of the world.
His world has gotten smaller.
“You wouldn’t think I’d run into a bunch of people from Central Texas, but I actually run into more people than you know,” said Haskins, a former Killeen High School running back and 2011 graduate. “Since Fort Hood is an Army base, a lot of officers, a lot of previous graduates go to Fort Hood. It’s a refreshing feeling that they know where I’m from.”
The Black Knights football team will get a closer look at Haskins’ hometown in early March when Army’s spring workouts conclude with its annual Black & Gold scrimmage game at 2 p.m. March 8 at Hood Stadium.
It will be the second straight Army spring game held on an active military base. Last year, Fort Benning, Ga., hosted the game.
“This is another great developmental opportunity for our football team,” Army head coach Rich Ellerson said in a statement. “We had a great experience with our spring game last season, and we feel it is important to continue strengthening the bond between Army football and the U.S. Army. It’s a tremendous chance to not only showcase our players and program, but it also gives the cadets the chance to experience these great Army communities.”
Trying to crack into the Black Knights’ running back rotation, Haskins said he would’ve played hard anywhere the scrimmage is played if he is, in fact, able to play this year.
Haskins has been rehabbing since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last season and having surgery in mid-October.
“I have to accept it if I don’t play, and just work as hard as I can to get back healthy so I can be a factor next season,” Haskins said.
While at Killeen, Haskins ran for a school record 1,550 yards in 2010. The record stood until junior Daniel McCants set the new mark at 1,925 yards in 2012.
In addition to the scrimmage, the players will take part in training opportunities as well as experience the post’s Engagement Skills Trainer which simulates marksmanship and combat scenarios. The team will also visit the Fort Hood Medical Simulation Training Center which trains soldiers in combat life saver and tactical combat casualty care concepts.
“III Corps and Fort Hood soldiers and families are honored to host West Point’s Black and Gold game here in Central Texas,” Fort Hood spokesman Col. Ben Danner said in a statement. “This is not only an opportunity for soldiers and families here to experience Army football firsthand, it is an opportunity for the West Point team to experience some of the world-class training resources at Fort Hood. Everybody wins.”
Hood Stadium officially opened Oct. 19 and played host to three high school football games in four weeks last season, beginning with a District 8-5A game between Harker Heights and Shoemaker high schools. Shoemaker, which is just miles away from the stadium and is home to numerous military dependents, played two games at the facility last season.
The Black Knights led the country in total rushing yards (4,438) and rushing yards per game (369.83) last season, but also lost 20 of 35 fumbles, which was fifth-worst in the nation. Army went 2-10 in 2012, including a 17-13 loss to Navy at the end of the season. The Black Knights did, however, defeat Air Force 41-21.
“Honestly, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, keep running the ball hard,” Haskins said. “The thing is, less fumbles. If we can minimize fumbles, minimize turnovers, we’re definitely a factor next year.”
Senior quarterback Trent Steelman and junior slot back Raymond Maples combined for 2,463 rushing yards last season. The Black Knights return a bevy of backs for the 2013 season, and Haskins believes he can be among those carrying the load of their triple option offense, which ranked 39th in the country averaging 436.25 yards per game.
“It’s a good program because I feel the love — I get reps in practice. It’s good for me and the rest of my teammates,” Haskins said. “Here, it’s not a selfish game, everybody gets a chance to run the ball — all the running backs across the board. Because everybody on this level plays differently, they have their individual talent that they can bring to the football team. That helps.”