Oct. 1, 2013
by Tracy Nelson, Army Athletic Communications
When the Army football season comes to a close later this year, it will mark the end of an era. The Trimble Era to be exact. For the first time in a decade, Army fans will not see a single Trimble on the roster.
Justin Trimble is the third son of Steve and Gretchen Trimble to play football at Army and the third who will protect this nation's freedom as an officer in the United States Army.
"They each chose to come to West Point," Gretchen said. "It was not something they had to do. It was a choice, and for that, I could not be more proud."
While Justin followed in the footsteps of older brothers Jeremy '08 and Jordan '11, the youngest of the Trimble clan, Josh, broke the mold and is currently a sophomore outside linebacker at Virginia Tech. Justin, meanwhile, has earned three varsity letters on the banks of the Hudson and is poised to add a fourth this fall.
Justin's road to the banks of the Hudson may have been paved, but it's been anything but smooth along the way. But for a Trimble, roadblocks are not an option. When that time comes, make something happen.
GROWING UP TRIMBLE
Growing up in a household of four boys born within 10 years of one another was exactly what one would expect - competitive and chaotic, but always nurturing. So much so that the Trimbles' parents hesitated to have their boys start playing organized football too early due to the strains it can have on the body, no matter how young or old.
"My parents didn't want to start us up too early because they knew how rigorous the game can be," recalls Justin. "They wanted us to wait, which lasted until sixth grade when I started playing on an organized team for the first time. Before that though, they couldn't keep a football out of me and my brothers' hands. We were constantly outside playing with friends and neighbors."
Justin says in their Ashburn, Va., neighborhood is where the competitive juices flowed like the waters of the Potomac anytime sports were the topic of conversation. If Jeremy caught three passes, Jordan needed to make four tackles, Justin five and Josh sought out for at least six.
"We tried to best each other in everything we did," Justin explains. "That was especially the case when it came to sports. Looking back, I think it helped us grow as athletes. We pushed each other to become better every day."
All four boys went on to play for their father, Steve, who spent eight seasons as the head coach at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in nearby Arlington, Va. Steve had at least one son on the roster at all times, but other than the occasional slip-up, he was always "coach" on the field and at practice and "dad" the minute they returned home for dinner.
PAVING THE WAY
Jeremy's decision to accept an appointment to West Point triggered the start of the Trimble era. By the time he was setting records for the Black Knights at wide receiver, Jordan followed and was a plebe during Jeremy's senior campaign. The eldest Trimble remains Army's career leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, while Jordan went on to become an Academic All-American. Jeremy is now a captain in the U.S. Army and is stationed in Korea. Jordan completed a tour in Afghanistan, ascended to a first lieutenant rank and is currently stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga.
With two brothers already at the Academy, recruiting Justin seemed too easy.
"My brothers coming here definitely influenced my decision to come here," Justin says. "I saw what they were doing and thought `if they can do it, I can do it too.'"
Some things never change.
Justin attended his fair share of Army games during Jeremy's celebrated career, which gave the Black Knights' coaching staff the chance to entice a third Trimble to join the Long Gray Line.
"I wasn't immediately sold on West Point," Justin admits. "But after going to games and seeing the amazing atmosphere of this place, it pulled me in."
Justin committed to West Point shortly thereafter and soon found himself at the United States Military Academy Prep School. After a year at USMAPS, much like any other plebe, his first year as a cadet was not without its struggles.
"It was a challenge at first," he reflects. "Everyone is competing in football, academics and in the military training. It was a lot to handle. Eventually, I got into the swing of things and set a routine. I've grown tremendously, learned a lot and am now able to manage my time and prioritize properly."
On the football field, Justin moved from wide receiver to safety at the start of preseason camp and went on to become one of seven rookies to earn a varsity letter after making 11 appearances. The following season, he moved to "mike" linebacker, appeared in six games and made three starts before injuries forced him to the sidelines.
In spite of the injuries, all-in-all, life for Justin Trimble was going well.
Just when things seemed to be falling in to place, tragedy struck the Trimble family. Steve, a beloved coach, father and active member of the community, died suddenly of a heart attack in his high school office on July 11, 2011. He was just 53 years old.
Steve, a presumably healthy former defensive back in the National Football League, was gone in an instant. A local high school football legend at Fort Hill in Cumberland, Md., he set records aplenty and won multiple state titles. He went on to star at the University of Maryland and eventually play on the professional level for the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. Steve also served a stint with the Denver Gold of the United States Football League. It was in the Mile High City where he met his future bride, Gretchen, who had been a cheerleader at Utah State.
Upon Steve's abrupt passing, colleagues and friends at Bishop O'Connell described him using words like "role model," "mentor," and "respected." One colleague and assistant coach on Steve's staff said, "He was a man who believed his duty as a coach was to instill morals, good character and strong faith in all of his players, along with his coaching staff."
If Justin and his brothers are any indication, Steve took the same approach when playing dad.
MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN
The lone Trimble left on Army's roster, Justin returned to the gridiron last fall and had his most productive season yet. He played in all but one game, made five starts and totaled 26 tackles and a team-high two interceptions to go with three pass breakups.
Before making his first start of 2012 at San Deigo State, Justin pulled the undershirt he will wear for the rest of his playing career out of his locker. On it, a picture of his father with the words "make something happen" splashed across the chest. Younger brother Josh, meanwhile, who has made the remarkable climb from redshirt walk-on to starting linebacker for the Hokies, wears the exact same undershirt every single game.
"I think about him all the time," Justin says. "He lives on through us. The shirts are a simple reminder that it's our time to do something for change. When things are going down, he taught us to stop and make something happen.
"Every time I step on the field, I play for him," he continues. "I remember everything he taught me - big and small, on and off the field. Keep playing, don't stop and never quit."
END OF AN ERA
As the Trimble era comes to an end this fall, Justin is determined to make something happen in part to honor his late father, but more so because that's what he was brought up to do.
"After three years, I feel comfortable out there on the field" says the 5-foot, 11-inch linebacker. "When I step on the field, I'm calm and steady. I'm not nervous, but more like a rock. I'm a communicator and somebody who likes to lead by example. We have a young team and it's on us older players to mentor the younger guys and make sure they know what they're doing and keeping their heads up."
Justin knows a lot about leading by example and the importance of having somebody to learn from. After all, his tutelage started with Steve and continued through every one of his brothers willing to pass lessons learned onto the next one. Some could argue the same can be said for the Army football brotherhood.
"Army football is as close to a brotherhood as it can possibly be," Justin says. "The only difference is blood. While we're not true brothers in the blood sense of the word, we're the next best thing."
So, how would Justin like the Trimble legacy to end? Appropriately, he'll need a little help from his brothers to see it through.
"Beat Navy," he smiles.