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JBLM Army vs. Everett Navy game

Coach Charlie Blake and soldiers to take on Navy

The Army-Navy battle was held last year at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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As a football coach at West Point, Charlie Blake has been on the game's biggest stage.

As a soldier, he understands the importance of the annual Army-Navy game.

"It's THE game," Blake said. "It's the game you point to all season. This is it."

For three years in the 1980s, Blake was the running back coach at West Point. Friday, he'll coach soldiers from JBLM in the annual Army-Navy flag football game. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. at the Navy Station in Everett. The game won't be on TV. There won't be thousands of fans in the stands. And it won't draw national headlines.

But that doesn't mean the game isn't important.

"Sure, it's flag football," Blake said. "But trust me. The only difference is they won't have the pads on. They'll get after each other."

The game is for bragging rights. And for a couple of hours on Friday it will be an escape and a release for players - both soldier and Navy man. After all the challenges they've faced, now they can just focus on this game.

"There are kids who have been to Iraq one time and to Afghanistan three times," Blake said. "This gives them a chance to do something as a team."

Blake has an impressive background in football. In college, he was a running back at Florida A & M. At West Point where he coached from 1983-1985, Blake coached a couple of All-Americans - Clarence Jones, who had a tryout with the Miami Dolphins, and Doug Black, an All-American fullback. But Blake was reluctant to talk about himself, about his accomplishments.

"This isn't about me," Blake said. "It's about them. That's why I'm coaching this team. Even though I'm retired, I'm still a soldier in my heart. What our soldiers are doing right now and the places they've served, it's the least I can do."

Blake said this is a special group he's coaching.

Richardo Terrio is the Army's starting quarterback. Kavon Love and Brian Freeman are the running backs. Ryan Tomsic is one of Army's top players on defense.

"Ryan is quiet," Blake said. "He never calls his name. He just performs. Like him, I like being under the radar myself. Just go out and execute."

With just eight practices, that might be a tall challenge for the Army team. While the Army team from JBLM won last year's game against Navy, Blake wasn't making any predictions for the rematch.

"I'll tell you what," Blake said. "If we win by one touchdown that would be good. The objective is to go up and win the game. By one or by 100, just winning."

When Blake coached at West Point, he remembers the intensity leading up to the game. He remembers the media hype and the big-name people that would show up. Blake shook hands with George H. Bush and General William Westmoreland. Stars from past games would show up at practice.

"The history and tradition of that game is amazing," Blake said.

The competition is stiff. But when the game is over there are no sore losers.

"We were so competitive. We'd get after each other," Blake said. "But when the game was over, we had the utmost respect for each other. Because we're all military. We're all one team. During the game, we're after each other. But after the game, we're all serving the same flag."

A tailgate party for the 14th annual Army-Navy flag football game begins at 2 p.m. Friday. There will be free food and a drawing for free Seattle Seahawk tickets. For more information call 253.967.4768.

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