Front And Center

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 29th edition of the Army Football Game Day.  

by Brian Gunning

For Army Football fans there have been three constants during the last two seasons - death, taxes and Trey Miranne at center for the Black Knights.

Army’s starter for each of the past 17 games, the New Orleans native ran the gauntlet in 2007, initiating each of the Black Knights’ 780 offensive plays during the 12-game slate. Even before his iron-man effort last season, Miranne proved to coaches, teammates and fans that he would do whatever is necessary to take the field. 

After suffering a broken right hand in practice prior to the 2006 season, then offensive line coach Stan Brock offered his charge the chance to move to guard while his hand recuperated, but Miranne decided on a different route. During his recovery time, he taught himself how to snap the ball left-handed in order to ensure his spot in the center of the Black Knights’ front wall. He made his first start of the season in the opener at Arkansas State on Sept. 2 and went on to start the final five games of his junior campaign.

Miranne’s durability can be attributed to a mixture of mental toughness and the efforts of the Black Knights’ top-notch athletic training staff.

“You have to get your treatment,” Miranne said during preseason camp. “I was in the training room every week fixing all the little nicks that you get during the season. You have to learn to play with pain. That’s the biggest thing. It is definitely a mental thing.”

What makes the third-year starter’s Herculian effort last season even more impressive was the discovery of a torn labrum in his shoulder following the season.

“It was something that I took a lot of pride in last year,” Miranne said of his ability to stay on the field. “Mike Lemming and Brandon Cox came out last year for three plays at the very end of the Temple game. I remember at the time I was pretty upset that they got to go out of the game and I was still in there. Now I kind of hang it over their heads a little bit that I played every down last season and they missed three or four plays.”

After surgery to repair the damage to his shoulder, Miranne was placed on medical leave and left the Academy during the spring. Since he did not participate in any games in 2004 or 2005, the NCAA granted him a waiver for a fifth year of eligibility. Miranne will complete his collegiate football career this season while finishing his academic work in May.

“I was really happy when I got the word I’d been cleared to play,” Miranne said. “Coach Brock called to tell me, and I was very excited.”

While he is thrilled to be back on the field with his teammates, Miranne probably is not too happy with some of the younger members of the Black Knights’ roster.

“All the young guys call him ‘Grandpa’ or ‘Super Senior,’” Lemming, one of the several veterans along the offensive line, said. “The ‘pups,’ that’s what we call them, all make fun of him for being the old guy.”

During his time away from the Academy, Miranne was able to improve his strength and conditioning by working with Nate Singleton, a former San Francisco 49er and a renowned trainer who boasts several NFL players among his clients. Miranne’s physical work and his vast experience on the field should prove big dividends for Army’s offensive line in 2008 as it begins its first season running offensive coordinator Tim Walsh’s new option-based scheme.

Despite not participating in the installation phase of the new system last spring, Miranne has not missed a beat since returning to the practice field. Even while away from West Point, the ambidextrous center immersed himself in the new playbook and studied film to make sure he was on the same page with his teammates at the start of preseason camp. From there it became a matter of perfecting the techniques and physical aspects of his assignments.

“From a mental standpoint, I caught on quickly,” Miranne explained while evaluating his progress since his fist practice of 2008. “The concept of being an offensive lineman never really changes – you want to come off the ball and dominate the guy across from you. It’s a few little technical things that I’ve been working on to improve and grasp with this new offense.”

Miranne’s desire to do whatever it takes to be successful is no accident. The son of a neurosurgeon, Trey learned at an early age that great sacrifice can lead to great rewards.

“My dad has been a huge influence on me,” Miranne, who shares the first name of Lucien with both his father and grandfather, said.  “I know how hard he had to work to get to the position that he is in. He instilled his work ethic and all those things in me. He had to go to school for a long time and had to put up with a lot of stuff to get to where he is. That is something that I can really identify with him about. He had to give up a lot, and I am giving up a lot to be in the position that I’m in. I look at him and know that it’s worth it. He is always someone that I’ve looked up to.”

A lifelong resident of the New Orleans area who grew up watching Stan Brock play for the Saints during his 16-year NFL career, Miranne had some anxious moments when Hurricane Katrina struck his hometown during his sophomore year. However, his father’s dedication and work ethic taught the youngest Lucien a lesson even during the tragic events that followed the storm.

“I was up here when it happened,” Miranne recalled. “I couldn’t get in touch with my family for two or three days. I finally found out everything was okay, and Dad went back to New Orleans. He said it was like Armageddon. He stayed in a secure area at the hospital in Metairie, where we’re from, but he saw some things while he was in the hospital treating patients.

“He’s someone that’s committed to doing his job. That’s another reason I look up to him. Nothing gets in his way when he has a job to do.”

While the Black Knights will count on Miranne doing his job this fall, the anchor of the offensive line will have plenty of help. He will be flanked by fellow seniors Lemming and Cox at right and left guard, respectively. Cox started all 12 games last season, splitting time between left guard and left tackle. Lemming was the Black Knights’ starting right tackle in each of the 12 contests a year ago. The trio represented the only three Army offensive linemen to start every game. Lemming and Miranne were the only two linemen to start every game at the same position.

The self-proclaimed “Bookends” (“We both played tackle and we’re both from Texas,” Lemming explained.), are both firmly entrenched at guard for the 2008 season. The triumvirate in the center of the line will be critical in Army’s new offense.

“I love it,” Lemming said of his move to the interior of the line. “In this offense, when you play guard you have to know that you’re going to beat that guy every time. You’ve got to be big and powerful in the middle, and in this offense, tackle is more of a finesse spot. I love it because you basically just get to go after the guy across from you.”

Cox echoed those sentiments when comparing the offensive line’s role in last year’s system to the new scheme in 2008.

“I think it is a lot of fun,” Cox said. “It’s just coming off the ball. It’s all downhill stuff. It is a lot different than last year when you’d have to read everything that’s going on. This is all predetermined and you go where you’re going to go. Whatever happens, happens and the back will make the cut off what’s there. You go to the line and know exactly what you’re doing. You don’t have to read the defense. It’s just go.”

The early reviews of the new system, while limited, were quite impressive. In two preseason scrimmages, the Black Knights offense scored nine total touchdowns, including four by the first unit. While the Army players and coaches realize they were only intrasquad workouts, there is reason for optimism given the defense’s dominance in similar situations during recent seasons.

“I think we’ve made some real big strides,” Miranne observed. “In the past, it’s been the defense coming out and dominating the scrimmages, and that didn’t happen this year. We know that our defense is very good at stopping the option. (Defensive coordinator) Coach (John) Mumford is one of the coaches around the nation that other coaches come to and ask how to stop the option. Knowing we can run the option against our own defense is a huge confidence boost.”

Mumford himself agreed after the second scrimmage, particularly praising the offensive line.

“Our offensive line is doing outstanding work,” the veteran coordinator said. “It’s a hard-nosed offense and they’ve responded very well. They’re as physical as they’ve ever been.”

Despite the position changes and new playbook, the front five is not expected to miss a beat. Army returns six players that started at least one game on the offensive line in 2007. While costly at the time, the injury bug that bit the Black Knights last season has provided quality depth up front in 2008.

“Everyone has a lot more experience than they did last year,” Miranne said. “Last year, we were a pretty young group. This year we’ve got five or six guys that got substantial playing time last year. I had the most experience last year, and that was only six games starting. This year, there are three other guys in the huddle with me that have played in more than 10 games. I think that gives us a big confidence boost up front.”

In addition to the cohesiveness formed on the field, the Black Knights’ big men take great pride in fostering a family atmosphere off the field as well.

“Any time we get time off, we’re going out and doing things like seeing a movie,” Lemming said. “We go to dinner together. We’ve got our ‘Fat Fests’ – those are just good times with the offensive line. We do an offensive line barbecue every spring to build camaraderie and a team mentality.”

Miranne, Cox and Lemming count each other among their closest friends, a bond that carries over to game day.

“It helps because we all know what we’re talking about,” Lemming said. “We can make head nods and noises at each other – even make fake calls – and we all know what we’re doing. It’s fun. We like playing with each other.”

Of course, everyone has disagreements with even their best of friends some times. Remember the pride Miranne expressed in playing those last three snaps of the Temple game?

“He doesn’t hold it over our heads at all,” Lemming said laughing. “That was the hottest game of the year, and we were winning. Our relief came in, and he was just mad that his relief did not come in for the final three snaps. It’s not a sense of pride for him – he’s still angry that his back up did not come in.”

Despite all the talk of a new system and scheme, it will be three tried and true veterans along the offensive line that will have a lot to say about the Black Knights’ offensive success.

“It’s great having each one of those guys next to me because I know what they’re thinking, I know what’s going through their heads all the time, and they know what is going through mine,” Miranne said of his wing men. “We know how each other plays and what the others are thinking which are definitely good things on the interior line.”

Brian Gunning is the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at West Point.

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