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Tough is routine for Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw

Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (17) is congratulated by running backs Kell Walker (32) and John Trainor (6) after scoring a touchdown during the second half of the Heart of Dallas Bowl NCAA college football game against North Texas Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 in Dallas. Army won 38-31 in overtime. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Brandon Wade/AP photo

Ohio State’s players undoubtedly face tougher practices than normal following an embarrassing 31-16 loss to Oklahoma at home on Saturday.

“Tougher,” though, is relative when juxtaposed with a routine day for the Buckeyes opponent this week — Army.

Black Knights third-year starting quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who has led a 2-0 start, earning votes for Army among “others” in the USA Today coaches poll, was up at 6:30 a.m. Monday for reveille. He was off to breakfast and his first class at 7:30. More classes filled his morning.

Following lunch, the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder reported to the football facility for treatment, weightlifting and video study. Then the Black Knights practiced in preparation for the No. 8-ranked Buckeyes (1-1) at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Columbus.

Bradshaw practiced as one of the players in a “Rangers” jersey for last week’s 21-17 comeback win over Buffalo. They were awarded by head coach Jeff Monken for exceptional effort without mental mistakes. The practice jersey with “Rangers” across the front recognizes the U.S. Army Rangers, an elite rapid deployment force.

“To be part of the Rangers club, you have to be tough,” Bradshaw told FanRag Sports. “You have to play hard. Ranger school is one of the most challenging schools in the military. I was fortunate to get one of the jerseys with other guys this week.”

Following practice and this interview, Bradshaw headed to dinner. He expected to be back to his dorm by 8:30 p.m. to start his homework. Taps is at 11:30, but he added, “I probably won’t be done with my homework by then.”

That helps explain why Army football players like to say practice is the easiest part of their day. But a “tough” day is a relative term for Bradshaw for another reason. There is such profound irony that a kid from Chicago’s South Side is training to become an officer on West Point’s scenic campus after leaving behind a battlefield neighborhood known for a high murder rate.

According to DNAinfo, a Chicago neighborhood news organization, there were 18 murders on Chicago’s South Side between Army’s season opener on Sept. 2 and the Sept. 9 win over Buffalo.

Bradshaw grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood and attended Gwendolyn Brooks Academy located in the Roseland neighborhood. As a kid, he said he saw a man fatally shot at 47th Street and Michigan Avenue, only a few blocks from his home. Another time he returned home from football practice and saw a man held up at gunpoint at 44th and Prairie near the Green Line Station.

“I don’t have much free time with summer training and football workouts,” Bradshaw said, “but when I go home, I have to be careful.”

His Chicago roots also mean he grew up in the heart of Big Ten country, which adds significance to playing before 104,000 fans at Ohio Stadium. His mother, Kizzy Collins, and other family members will attend.

“I was a Wisconsin and Ohio State fan when I was a kid,” Bradshaw said. “We’re excited to play one of the best football teams in the country.”

Army is a 30.5-point underdog, but the Black Knights are operating with heightened confidence. They are building on last year’s 8-5 record that was only Army’s second winning season since 1996. The overall winning streak has reached five, including last season’s finish against Morgan State (60-3), Navy (21-17) and North Texas (38-31 OT) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Bradshaw is coming off his third straight 100-yard rushing game and seventh of his career. Against Buffalo, he rushed 25 times for 147 yards and one touchdown with a long run of 52 yards. He directed a 14-0 second-half comeback as the Black Knights controlled the ball for 20 minutes.

Through two games, he is averaging 162.0 yards rushing a game in a triple-option offense ranked second in the nation with 417.5 yards. But he has to improve his passing. He missed some open receivers early in the Buffalo game. For the year, he is 2-for-10 for 17 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

“I’ve got to get our receivers the ball,” Bradshaw said. “We don’t throw much, but it’s something I’ve got to do better. I’ve been working on it in practice, and we’re going to get it down.”

The fourth-quarter comeback against Buffalo was the Black Knights’ second under Monken, who is in his fourth year at West Point. Army previously had a 1-19 record in such situations, but mistakes haven’t snowballed as in the past.

“One thing we do differently is fourth-quarter drills at the end of practice,” said Bradshaw. “That’s to emphasize the importance of the fourth quarter and finishing hard. We did that today. We want to finish the game strong no matter the score and who we’re facing.”

The Buffalo victory was a contrast from an overtime loss to Buffalo a year ago, when the Black Knights let a lead get away.

Bradshaw admitted in this phone interview that the early season Black Knights of 2016 wouldn’t have come back to win this year’s contest. My interview took place after practice at 7:10 p.m. I asked him when he expected to finish dinner and get back to the dorm to start homework.

“About 8:30, depending on how long this interview is,” he said.

Guiltily, I said one more question and let him go.

Then I thought about Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, Alabama coach Nick Saban or Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh allowing their quarterback to grant an interview that delayed dinner and homework.

It may be a tough week for Ohio State’s players this week as punishment for the Oklahoma loss, but tough is relative in so many ways for Bradshaw and his teammates.

ARMY, NAVY AND AIR FORCE UNBEATEN

Army isn’t the only service academy team traveling to face a brand-name Big Ten school. Air Force (1-0) is coming off a bye before facing No. 7 Michigan (2-0) at noon ET Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Army, Air Force and Navy (2-0) are a combined 5-0 two weeks into the season. The Midshipmen have a bye this week.

The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series opens Oct. 7 when Air Force visits Navy. Air Force won last year’s CIC Trophy.

Follow Tom Shanahan’s FanRag Sports stories on Twitter @shanny4055.

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