Before the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army flag football team takes the field today for the 2012 Puget Sound Classic, coach Lonnie Meredith will have important words for the Soldiers.
I tell these guys ... in my pre-game speech, the name on the back of their jerseys is not important, its the name on the front, Meredith said. Thats what I want them to play for.
The name on the front Army, hosts its rival, Navy Region Northwest, today in the 13th annual flag football contest at 2:45 p.m. with yearlong bragging rights on the line. Army took home the trophy from Silverdale Stadium last year and looks to repeat as champions on its home turf at Cowan Stadium on Lewis Main.
The local contest is traditionally played one week before the Army-Navy college game Dec. 8 in Philadelphia, Pa. For his fifth straight year seventh overall Meredith returns as coach for JBLM. The Armys 2006 Coach of the Year chosen by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Directorate brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and a shared passion for the game.
I really think its the challenge of taking a group of men and having them buy into a concept and perform as one for each other, Meredith said. I love when I see the guys who never knew each other ... accept their roles for the greater good of the team.
While stationed in Hawaii in 1995 Meredith coached youth football. He arrived at Fort Lewis in the late 1990s and soon left for Saudi Arabia. When he returned he started coaching intramural football on the post and learned about the annual Army vs. Navy game. He became the assistant coach from 2001 to 2003 before he took over in 2004. In 2005 Meredith led the Army team to its first victory on the road with a thrilling overtime win over Navy.
After 20 years of service Meredith retired from the Army and in 2007 stepped down from his coaching role. But he didnt stay away for long and returned the following season.
The one thing that keeps Meredith returning every year?
Its the camaraderie, he said. Its more off the field is where we connect. When these guys leave here we still try to keep in contact. Thats what I think the beauty of it is.
Each year brings new players to the Armys roster and with JBLM intramural flag football also in season, its difficult to have everyone together at the same time to practice. But Meredith works with who he has and laces up in his cleats to actively lead on the field.
Among the new faces are some who are familiar with the rivalry. David Sadlemyer returns as quarterback this year and Thomas Blaine and Markeyces Wadley return for their fourth and eighth Army-Navy games, respectively.
Its good to go out and play football, and win or lose at the end of the day you still gain a friend and were all a family in a sense, Meredith said.