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Blaik had already molded his first-string backfield. At least two owe their stardom to Red Blaik and the Point. Tommy Bell, who is running right into the All-America, wasn't sought after by other schools, and got into West Point on his own. He had to repeat his plebe year; he learned, the double hard way, that instantaneous unquestioning response to an order which the academy beats into its cadets.
Even the pros can't teach their ball carriers to break immediately for the hole without looking first to see if it's really there. Sometimes by the time they get there it isn't. But Tommy Bell never hesitates. He is the fastest-breaking halfback in the country. He takes that ball where they tell him to take it, right now.
Take Pete Vann, the quarterback and key man of the Army offense, who's so slick a ball handler that even in the press box with field glasses you can't always tell who really has the ball. Pete had been the cocky quarterback of the cocky little high-school team of Hamburg, N.Y. At West Point he discovered all the things he didn't know about college football, and the shock nearly killed him. His potential was there, all right, but he couldn't seem to get over that initial insecurity.
Against Penn, his sophomore year, it showed up in a shaky pass that Walt Hynoski intercepted. Hynoski picked up a pair of blockers and he was off. Vann didn't pay any attention to the blockers. He ran right through both of them, and racked up Hynoski, but good. And then he settled down and played it cool.
After the game, in the dressing room, Colonel Blaik strolled by him. "Pete," he said quietly, "now you are a man." There has been no doubt since about Army's quarterback.
RESALE ON SUNDAY
Blaik is an inspiration to his assistant coaches as well as to his players. Each Sunday during the season the squad meets after chapel to see the movies of Saturday's game. At the end of the meeting Blaik gives a little talk. "I've been eating this stuff for years," George Blackburn, who's been coaching since 1937, says, "but every Sunday the colonel sells me football all over again." Actually, each of Blaik's assistants believes firmly in football, in himself, and that he is making a major contribution to the future of the nation through its youth.
Army recruits football players, but in a crazy sort of way. The coaching staff calls for a transcript of a high-school star's grades before they even glance at his rushing average. If the kid doesn't have straight B's or higher, or an IQ of over 112 and great desire, they don't encourage him at all.
Of the 400-odd boys the coaching staff makes contact with in a year, the Army gets about 20. It isn't hard to get appointments for them. If you don't want intelligent students of proven courage, stamina and leadership in the United States Military academy, then what's the thing for, anyway?
Once in West Point, where everybody is on scholarship, the only difference between the man out for football and any other cadet is that he has more lumps and less time. He even gets less food.