SI Vault
Sarah Pileggi
November 01, 1976
For years they've struggled on—brave old Army teams—but Leamon Hall, whose bullets are on target, once more has West Point sky high for football
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November 01, 1976

A Star On The Back Side Of Heaven

For years they've struggled on—brave old Army teams—but Leamon Hall, whose bullets are on target, once more has West Point sky high for football

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Hall remembers Brundidge mainly for his basketball. "He was really good as a sophomore," says Hall, who was all-region in basketball himself. "Later he became a great basketball player."

Brundidge pretends that every Army practice is a real game, and sometimes, out on Daly Field at West Point, when he messes up an assignment, he looks as though he can barely drag himself back to the line, so badly has he let himself and the team down. Before the fifth game he said, "This week I'm imagining everybody's Penn State and that's their linebackers out there."

"Clennie is very religious," says Jeff Jancek, a senior from New Jersey who is team captain and who was moved from end to guard this year, partly to make room for Brundidge. "He has faith in God linked with faith in the power of the mind, and he knows it is possible to beat guys who are heavier and quicker. If we have a new attitude this year you could say that Clennie was its founder."

The attitude survived the Penn State defeat, but the bodies took a beating from the big and fast and well-coached Penn State defense. Hall and Brundidge were harassed unmercifully all afternoon, Hall almost never getting a chance to set up properly and Brundidge almost always having a couple of Penn State defenders at his elbow, "like a basketball defense," said Smith later.

Last year Brundidge started on both the football and basketball varsities, but by the end of the year he had decided he could not handle the load a second time. "The academics here are so hard sometimes I don't know where to turn," he said one morning in the break between his 7:45 chemistry class and his 10:25 physics class. "I was disappointed in myself academically the first year, so I decided to concentrate on basketball and devote the rest of the year to academics."

In June Brundidge wrote a letter to Smith explaining his decision and then he spent his summer leave practicing basketball and playing pickup games with college players around home. Smith, whose disappointment must have been profound, wrote Brundidge back, wishing him well and saying he hoped he would change his mind. Brundidge's football teammates, however, kept at him, writing him letters, begging him to play, telling him they needed him.

As they truly did. Of the 34 lettermen eligible to return this year, only 15 finally did. Seven resigned, one was dismissed, six quit football, two were found guilty in the Honor Board investigations and three were injured. As an athletic department staffer said, mournfully mixing metaphors, "Coming out of the gate we had two strikes against us."

All summer long Brundidge wavered. Finally, a week before training was to start, he made up his mind. "What influenced me most was when the 82nd Airborne troopers from Fort Knox came out to Camp Buckner during summer training. I didn't realize how involved they were in Army football. I realized I could make people happy just by being out there."

Clennie Brundidge made a lot of people very happy when he showed up, unannounced, on Aug. 21. Homer Smith wrote in his weekly newsletter to the Friends of Army Football, "...On the first day of practice a coach came into my office with a message that I will not forget—'Clennie is here.' "

Brundidge has changed in many ways since his recruiting visit to West Point when he spent a weekend on the post and averaged three words a day. He had been discovered by Assistant Coach Bud Neswiacheny, who was handling recruiting in Florida. Neswiacheny, watching films of another high school player, saw Brundidge score for Oviedo on plays of 95 and 55 yards, and immediately Army joined Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Florida in the chase.

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