Want Army football perspective? Ask the guy who carries around a copy of the constitution

When I need a keen perspective on the state of Army football, senior fullback Larry Dixon is one of the guys I go to. This is a kid, after all, who carries around a copy of the constitution.

On heavy lifting:
“I’ve been lifting heavy for a long time, but these (coaches) take it to another level. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m more athletic than I’ve ever been.’’
On the team getting stronger this offseason:
“It’s awesome. A lot of these guys are my best friends. I look at these kids I’ve known two years, three years, four years from the prep school, and these guys are just different, and it’s just really nice.’’
On Army’s improving strength translating to wins:
“Absolutely. This whole thing is a change of mind set. The best word to describe Coach Monken is ‘winner’. He’s won everywhere he’s been and we are excited to learn from him. We have a very experienced staff with a lot of wins. They’ve done a lot of great things at their (previous) schools. This is a staff that is absolutely always going to push you to work harder.
“On the field it gives you a lot more confidence. I know what everybody’s going to do because this is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.’’
On the opening day of practice:
“It was everything that we expected it to be. It was hard, it was tough, but we learned a lot. When we face any hardship, we are going to come together and get better.’’
On learning more about the game every day:
“Coach Krzyzewski used to talk about a basketball having all the knowledge that there is (inside of it) and he draws a little Sharpie marker and says, ‘That’s what I know about basketball.’ His mark was tiny. Mine is microscopic compared to our coaches. They just have so much knowledge about the game and so much insight to where I’m seeing the game develop in a different way. You can see guys just becoming smarter players and that’s just awesome.’’
On being rejuvenated by the new staff:
“It reenergizes you. We just all feel like if we can do what the coaches ask of us, we are going to be a better team.’’
kgleason@th-record.com; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason

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MLB playoff possibilities: What the bookies think

Bovada (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV), an online site, passed along their odds on teams making the playoffs. Take a peek:
(Note: Teams with lower than 10/1 odds to win the World Series are assumed to make the playoffs, which includes Oakland, the Dodger, Angels, Detroit and Washington).
Baltimore Orioles
Yes – 1/2
No – 3/2
Toronto Blue Jays
Yes – 2/1
No – 1/3
Yes – 3/1
No – 1/5
Kansas City Royals
Yes – 5/2
No – 1/4
Cleveland Indians
Yes – 5/1
No – 1/9
Seattle Mariners
Yes – 2/3
No – 11/10
Atlanta Braves
Yes – 10/11
No – 10/11
Milwaukee Brewers
Yes – 1/1
No – 5/7
St. Louis Cardinals
Yes – 5/7
No – 1/1
Cincinnati Reds
Yes – 1/1
No – 5/7
Pittsburgh Pirates
Yes – 2/1
No – 1/3
San Francisco Giants
Yes – 2/3
No – 11/10

kgleason@th-record.com; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason


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A few thoughts as Army football opens fall camp

OK, the first thing you notice watching the Army football team up close is that they are… HUGE!
I mean, it’s unbelievable how apparent the size transformation is after a single offseason under new head coach Jeff Monken.
The Black Knights clearly benefited physically from having their six-week summer training session moved to the front end of the summer (actually spring time) from, in prior years, the weeks leading up to preseason camp. It allowed players to get a head start on lifting instead of being trained and trying to bulk up in the final weeks of July. Fullback Larry Dixon said his training ended on a Saturday and he and teammates were in the weight room on Monday.
The second thing you notice is that coaches are going to demand a ton from these players, painstakingly harp on detail after detail and hold them accountable each and every minute of practice. Dixon talked about learning something new about football each and every day since the new staff took over.
The third thing you notice is that despite all of their mistakes on Monday, the Black Knights have a heightened sense of belief in themselves. It became clear the past two years that not all players shared the belief that they would win each week, no matter what they told the media. These players are certain that Monken and his staff will lead them to wins. The combination of that belief with Army’s commitment and physical improvements could translate to a winning season.
Now Army needs to concentrate on being focused every minute of practice, because the sessions are going to be long and it’s going to be hot.
The Monken Era has begun.

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An interview with new Army football coach Jeff Monken

An interview with new Army football coach Jeff Monken a couple days before the start of his first preseason camp

On commitment:
“Everyone has a desire to win but not everyone is able to put forth the effort and put in the time and have the dedication and commitment to seeing it all the way through. I believe in our guys.’’
On expectations:
“They all have to show me and I have to show them. They have heard me say it a bunch of times: Don’t convince me; show me. I want to see it. Words are cheap. Talk is cheap. I want to see some action.’’
On his first order of business as Army coach:
“I think the first thing is to establish expectations and set standards to meet those expectations. Whatever those expectations are, you make them clear and you commit to organizing how we are going to get there, how we are going to meet those expectations.’’
On challenging players in the weight room:
“I think probably the toughest practices that we have are in the weight room. Nobody has it tougher and harder than we do.’’
On creating a culture of toughness:
“It (being tough) doesn’t take any kind of physical ability. You can be tough. It’s a choice we can make.
“We haven’t done anything yet. So what if we lift all these weights and draw up all these plays. That’s not an accomplishment. We are nowhere close to being ready to play.’’
On playing freshmen:
“I’ve never been part of a football program where freshmen are not playing.’’
On recruiting (Monken says recruiting at Army is exactly the same as recruiting at Navy):
“A lot of kids we talk to don’t know anything about the Academy. Recruiting is a challenge here. Your recruiting pool as an Academy recruiter isn’t the same as everyone else’s. It’s narrowed for a lot of reasons — if a kid’s been in trouble; he doesn’t have the leadership qualities… Frankly, a lot of kids aren’t open to (West Point). I think there are enough players out there that are still open to serving the country.’’

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NFL over-under win totals: Let the games begin

This might be my favorite time of the year, not that there is a ton going on in the sports world, but it’s a beautiful month thanks to the blissful combination of sunny weather and the start of NFL training camp.
As such, fans have begun launching spirited arguments regarding their team, specifically the number of wins and chances of post-season participation. One of my favorite exercises, other than the Elliptical, of course, is checking out predicted regular-season win totals installed by various casinos.
As an example, to those unfamiliar, the Cardinals’ over-under is 7½, so folks who think the Cards will win at least eight games would pick the over, and those who think they will win fewer than eight games would pick the under.
Anyway, I’ve listed the numbers according to Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV), and the digits given to the New York teams jump off my page.
The Giants are over/under eight. Listen, at the risk of sounding like a shameful homer, of which I’m actually not:
I will be stunned – STUNNED! – if the Giants don’t win at least nine games this season. Three things must happen for the Giants to win fewer than eight games, all of which, this being the NFL, are entirely possible:
1. Eli Manning would have to perform as miserably as he did last season. I think he will smoothly transition into new coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense and have a big bounce back season.
2. The rebuilt offensive line would have to be a complete failure. This is, and will continue to be, the team’s greatest concern heading into the season.
3. The Giants would have to get buried with key injuries, which indeed has taken place on several occasions under Tom Coughlin.
But, again, I would be surprised if all three factors play out. If I had to make a prediction today, I’d put the Giants at 10-6.
A couple thoughts from Kevin Bradley, Sportsbook Manager with Bovada.lv (sorry, Cowboys fans):
“NFL win totals continue to take more money than any other future market we have up right now for the NFL, and a few teams are really standing out as popular bets. The Chicago Bears over 8.5 has taken over 95 percent of the money, but we are comfortable holding the number at 8.5, especially in a pretty competitive division. The Saints (10) and Patriots (11) are seeing the same type of action forcing each of their win totals to move up half a win. The two teams who have caught my eye taking quite a bit of under money is the Dallas Cowboys dropping from eight to 7.5 wins and the Carolina Panthers (8½) with 80 percent of the public expecting them to regress from their surprising year in 2013.”
I will talk a bit about the Jets’ number (seven) later, of which I think might be a tad low as well.

Arizona Cardinals: 7½
Atlanta Falcons: 8½
Baltimore Ravens: 8½
Buffalo Bills: 6½
Carolina Panthers: 8½
Chicago Bears: 8½
Cincinnati Bengals: 9
Cleveland Browns: 6½
Dallas Cowboys: 7½
Denver Broncos: 11½
Detroit Lions: 8½
Green Bay Packers: 10½
Houston Texans: 7½
Indianapolis Colts: 9½
Jacksonville Jaguars: 5
Kansas City Chiefs: 8
Miami Dolphins: 7½
Minnesota Vikings: 6
New England Patriots: 11
New Orleans Saints: 10
New York Giants: 8
New York Jets: 7
Oakland Raiders: 5
Philadelphia Eagles: 9
Pittsburgh Steelers: 8½
San Diego Chargers: 8
San Francisco 49ers: 10½
Seattle Seahawks: 11
St. Louis Rams: 7½
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7
Tennessee Titans: 7
Washington Redskins: 7½

kgleason@th-record.com; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason

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Today’s quiz: Name West Point’s most successful program the past seven seasons

If you were asked to name the top five most respected sports at West Point, chances are you might forget to mention boxing.
After all, it has become a somewhat forgotten sport on the national scene, a virtually anonymous sport collegiately, and at West Point tends to fall off the radar as a club sport.
That is, unless you spend some time around the program, which in April won its sixth national title in seven years. Spend a couple hours in the boxing room and you would quickly realize that it’s not only one of the most successful sports at the Academy, but one of the most popular.
Ray Barone, West Point’s director of boxing since 1999, has done a remarkable job building the program and maintaining a first-class operation. He expects to have some 130 cadets out for the team with tryouts beginning on Aug. 19. More than 90 incoming freshmen have expressed interest in giving it a shot. And the Black Knights look to defend their title with 30 returning boxers.
Barone has talked about his boxers going on to do big things in the military. It’s no surprise given the level of dedication and commitment required to be part of the prestigious program.

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Aldrich Jr. wins No. 5,000

Bruce Aldrich Jr. has been the most successful driver at Monticello Raceway for four years now. He added another jewel to his sparkling resume on Monday by winning his 5,000th race.

Aldrich, once more the Mighty M’s leading driver, won three races on the day. His 5,000th came in the third race driving Road Work Ahead, a horse that hadn’t even hit the board in 20 previous races.

“I’m proud and I’m glad it’s over,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich also guided Diamond Tiara, a pacing mare, to her 15th seasonal win to extend her lead in races won in North America this year.  Her wire-to-wire clocking of 1:55.2 was her fastest this year.

“She was awesome today,” he blurted. “I never even had to lift the lines. What a nice mare she is to drive.”

kgleason@th-record.com; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason



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The Renegades experience: Nobody does it better

The Hudson Valley Renegades have entertained folks in the Hudson Valley for 20 years now. And here’s the thing: They have never gotten old.

They are still the best sports entertainment value around. They are fresher than ever. And they are genuinely focused on serving their audience.

Minor-league baseball has long carved its niche as a family-fun environment filled with wacky in-game promotions and kids activities. The game has long been secondary to most fans in attendance, moms and dads watching the action but really watching their children have fun. Some teams do it better than others. I can’t imagine anyone doing it better than the Renegades, Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Father’s Day brought us to Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, “The Dutch,” as they call it. My son Dillon, 11, needed a wheelchair as he’s coming off a nasty battle with staph infections in both legs. So they set us up in a wheelchair assessable location in left field with a splendid view of the game. The left-field usher was terrific, at one point chasing down a foul ball and handing it to Dillon. He wanted it signed by none other than Rascal the mascot, so the usher made sure Rascal came by for a signature and picture without me having to crazily wheel Dillon toward our furry friend.

It was just a fabulous experience from a fan vantage point that always makes me feel a bit weird with almost three decades covering games from press boxes and following journalism’s most basic tenet of no cheering. There was no preferential treatment as only a few Renegades employees know me by sight. My point is that they treated us the way they treat everybody — with a bit more care for the boy in the wheelchair — which is to say that they went out of their way to ensure fans had a pleasant experience.

Just as they have for two decades running.

Of course, and I’ve written this many times over the years, public address announcer Rick Zolzer is the perfect point man. The team’s vice president and head of special events, Zolz does a masterful job entertaining the crowd while silky-smoothly handling a million duties, from directing promotions to recognizing advertisers to, yes, calling the ballgame.

If he doesn’t, Zolz should have a lifetime contract from the Gades. Judging by an evening at the park, the Hudson Valley Renegades have a long life ahead.

kgleason@th-record.com; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason








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Help create miracles to disadvantaged kids around the world

There are a lot of caring people in this world, and a special slice of humanity can be found in Baseball Miracles, a team of baseball/softball instructors who travel to disadvantaged regions of the world to teach children the sports.
The program has blossomed since Town of Newburgh resident and White Sox scout John Tumminia started it in 2011. Baseball Miracles has done clinics in the Dominican Republic, the Pine Ridge (S.D.) Indian Reservation and most recently January in Ireland.
Check out the site — http://www.baseballmiracles.org/ — and feel free to help in any way possible. The program is possible through the kindness and goodness of people. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
The group provides instruction, gloves bats, hats, shirts and in many cases hope. Baseball Miracles performs the operation through intense fund-raising efforts. The group is preparing to head to Africa in November, and could use some last-minute supplies to meet shipping requirements as soon as possible. Items needed are gloves, whiffle balls and tees. Shipping costs alone are in the thousands.
Baseball Miracles includes Marlboro High graduate Rob Bell, a former major-league pitcher now working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Fishkill-based Class A affiliate of the Rays. Sean Kober is the field coordinator and equipment manager.
“Where would all the great Dominican players be if nobody went out to the Dominican Republic to teach young kids who were throwing rocks around, and teach them how to play?’’ Tumminia says of the Dominican influence in the majors that began to take shape in the mid-1950s. “Never has an African player been drafted or signed. You have to start somewhere.’’
For information, email Tumminia at JTUMMINIA@chisox.com, or Kober at seansaloon@yahoo.com.

kgleason@th-record.com; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason

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Entry to NFL Draft free… but a bit complicated

Ever consider being one of those zany fans who fight for camera time at the NFL draft? Or if you just want to experience a unique atmosphere in which NFL dreams can be realized or dashed.
The draft, set for May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall, also is unique in that it’s a free event put on by the NFL. Let’s face it, this league doesn’t provide much for free. The first round is 8 p.m. on May 8. Rounds 2-3 will start at 7 p.m. May 9 and Rounds 4-7 will start at noon on Saturday.
Of course, seating is limited. Here’s how you can score a ticket:
For the first round, you must obtain a wristband on Wednesday on the 50th Street side of Radio City. Distribution will begin at 7 p.m. and be given out on a first-come, first-served basis to those in line. Those wishing to attend the draft must be present to get a wristband, and will be required to register and provide contact information on-site.
Those receiving wristbands can line up for Thursday’s festivities at 6 p.m., at which time they will receive their ticket indicating seat location. Tickets will be distributed randomly. Doors open at 6:40 p.m. Fan entry is on 50th between 5th and 6th Avenues.
For Friday’s rounds, you must obtain a wristband starting at 10 p.m. Thursday on the 50th Street side of Radio City. Again, first-come, first-served and those wishing to attend the draft must be present. Those with wristbands can line up starting at 5 p.m. Friday.
In addition, fans can reserve tickets in advance to attend the second night by visiting http://1iota.com/Show/368/2014-NFL-Draft.
For the final day on Saturday, entry will be on a first-come, first-served basis when doors open at 11 a.m. Fan entry, again, will take place at the entrance on 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
Fans again may reserve their tickets in advance for Day 3 by visiting http://1iota.com/Show/368/2014-NFL-Draft.
Day 3 will feature special programming for youth football players, parents and coaches. They will have a chance to ask former NFL players and experts from USA Football questions about reaching their goals and safety measures through Heads Up Football.
To register your team to attend Day 3, go to http://1iota.com/Show/368/2014-NFL-Draft#Groups.
A collectable pin set will be given to fans attending the draft, with a collectible pin in the official draft goodie bag for those attending all three days.
Remember, security will be tight. The all-clear bag policy will be in effect so each fan will be able to carry the following style and size bag, package or container:
Clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and doesn’t exceed 12’’ X 6” X 12”; OR
A one-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar) and a small clutch bag, about the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap.
Items carried in will be inspected and potentially disallowed. Fans should plan on extra time for waiting in line and security checks. Exceptions will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection.
For more details on screening procedures and a full list of prohibited items, visit http://www.nfl.com/draft.

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