After being fortunate enough to interview my fellow classmate Eric Kettani last week, I decided to jump ship and hear from the other side of the Army-Navy rivalry. Yeah, that’s right - I crossed behind enemy lines. My main goal in this uncharted territory was to find a player that I admired as a fan of the “opposing team.” I wanted to speak to someone that not only had substantial success on the field but also someone who represented the services academies in a positive manner. While I took a few days deciding on who I wanted to reach out to first, the answer for me became pretty clear: my next interview would be with former Army quarterback Trent Steelman.
It made sense for Trent to be our first Army representative. He was a player I always respected when watching Army play and I always feared his athletic ability. Trent made a lasting impact on the Army football program and has always been a steward of the game, West Point, and our military academies as a whole. He is still the Black Knights’ leader in career touchdowns with 59 scores (ahead of Glenn Davis) and second all-time in career yards (6,043). After he found success in the college ranks at Michie Stadium, the Department of Defense eventually granted him the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL. Ultimately, he signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Steelman balanced the pursuit of his childhood dream while serving our country as a Maintenance Officer in the United States Army. Finally, he found a new career as a college football coach at Jacksonville University. While coaching can be a very challenging and cut-throat career, my sense of Trent after our interview is that he is determined to make a positive impact in the lives of young athletes. His leadership ability is pure and authentic, and I have a feeling he is destined for success. But enough from me, let’s hear from Trent in his own words in part two of our “Where Are They Now?” series.
Q: Keeping it simple to kick it off - can you walk us through where you are today? All the way from graduating from West Point to coaching at Jacksonville University?
A: “I graduated in 2013 and from there it was a crazy ride of opportunities with football, the military, back to football, and then I found myself in coaching. After graduating I did two years[in the military] and then I got signed by Baltimore, and the military blessed me with the opportunity to pursue my dreams so they released me from active duty. After signing with Baltimore in July 2015, I was with them through training camp before getting cut at the end of camp. I originally spent some time playing in other leagues trying to work my way back into the NFL and it was just hard being away from my wife (Also, Steelman never even mentioned his MVP performance at the 2015 World Championship...another example of his humility). Really, I was going to be done playing anything other than the NFL. Had I gotten a call I would have gone back for sure, but she is from Atlanta, and we ended up getting a house there. And I got a commercial real estate job for three months with a West Point grad in downtown Atlanta and to be honest, it was not up my alley. I missed football. I had been playing the game my whole life. So, after those three months, I got a call from Coach Shields who was my offensive coordinator at West Point and he had just gotten the head coach job at Jacksonville - so he offered me a position to coach. I didn’t really know what to expect. I never really had any aspirations at that point to coach - I knew after the NFL and the military that I wanted to have a sports-oriented job, but never knew it would be in coaching. But, I have loved every minute of it and it is something I want to continue to do for my career.”
Q: That is an awesome opportunity to coach and lead, I am sure. Considering that your busiest work-day of the week is on Saturday, how are you able to keep up with Army football?
A: “I do what I can. Obviously my schedule presents its challenges. With games being on Saturday, I need to pay my attention to whoever is paying the bills and getting my guys better. So, I am devoting all of my time and energy to them. But I try to keep up with [Army] as much as possible, especially the big games I keep track of, but you are right - it definitely is a challenge since I started coaching.”
Q: I can imagine. Have you made it back up to West Point for a game since you graduated?
A: “No. I actually went back to the Army-Navy game two years ago for the first time since I finished playing.”
Q: Well, I am sure you miss it, at least some aspects of it anyway (I mean let’s be honest, as service academy grads it’s a love-hate relationship. I miss some things and certainly don’t miss some others). Since we are on the topic of West Point, what is the most valuable lesson you gained from your time there, or at USMAPS for that matter, that really helped attribute to your success outside of the military?
A: “Really it came down to being able to lead a diverse group of individuals. Especially from my time after West Point as a maintenance platoon leader. Being able to lead in unique circumstances and environments is what translated to me the most as a coach. When you have a group of football players, just like you have in the military, you are going to have all walks of life - people from all types of cultures, upbringings, and all parts of the United States. So, everyone has their own way of learning and acceptance of coaching, and I found myself really having to adjust my leadership style to the way they learn the best. That is easily the biggest takeaway.”
Q: Obviously that is a great skill set you learned while at West Point, but before you got there, and just like me or anyone else, you probably had initial reservations about attending the Academy. So, what led you to deciding to play at West Point out of high school.
A: “You know what is funny is that I didn’t have any reservations because I was so naive. I didn’t really have a great understanding of what the service academies were even about. My only connection was from watching them through a football standpoint, but not truly understanding what else was involved in that. So, what led me to actually deciding on West Point? That was the opportunity to play D1 football. Army was my only offer at that level, so when it came to that - football had been my passion and my love - I knew that is what I wanted to do and that is what brought me initially to West Point.” (Safe to say he found some success while he was there, too).
Q: So you kind of mentioned that love, that drive, and that desire for the game of football, and I assume that played a role in your ability to move from quarterback to wide receiver in the NFL. How was that transition in terms of changing the basis of your normal everyday football skill-set and do you think that has made you a better coach today?
A: “At first it was difficult. Really, what started that transition was the invitation to the East-West Shrine Game my senior year. Knowing that there was not a need for a true triple option quarterback in the NFL, the next best transition for me was going to be at running back or a slot receiver - or a hybrid of both. That was really what I tried to sell myself as at the Shrine Game. The transition, at first, was difficult. After running an option offense your footwork is so ingrained in what you do that you really become heavy-footed in a way. So, being able to craft my route-running ability - it was hard. It is harder than people think. I think I always had the natural skill set to catch balls and be a good athlete, but the fundamentals and techniques associated with the position didn’t come easy but it has done wonders for educating myself as a coach.”
Q: As a coach, your official title now is “Quarterbacks/B-Backs Coach.” When you first started at JU was that your role? Or, in what capacity have you fulfilled coaching duties?
A: “I was actually hired as the wide receivers coach. My second year I was the receivers coach and special teams coordinator. This year I was actually the special teams coordinator, quarterbacks, and B-backs. It was a challenge and a grind. There is a lot more that goes into coaching quarterbacks and B-backs in this offense. That is really true in any offense because they have the “keys to the kingdom” so to speak. They have to know what every position is doing. So, being able to coach those two positions together was good because they travel together everywhere in this offense. But adding special teams to that was difficult. I learned a ton about being a special teams coordinator, but once this season ended we decided for me to just focus on quarterbacks and B-backs.”
Q: Well, even in that role you are certainly hitting the road recruiting. Do you ever find yourself talking to someone who may be interested in one of the service academies?
A: “It’s funny, because, yeah I do - a lot. Those are the type of kids we like to build our program around. Those tend to be the culture-kids who can make your program better. Not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint, too. If you have that in your blood then you are wired just a little bit differently. We look for those types of kids when we recruit, but if any kid is considering an academy I never deter them from that. I would never do that in a million years.”
Q: Yeah, I bet that is a tough spot.
A: “Yeah, it is. I don’t want to prevent them from pursuing that opportunity. Like I said, that is a special circumstance and it takes a special mindset to want to do that and commit yourself to that. I actually encourage them to do it. Because, like I said, that is a special individual.”
Q: That leads into a question we try to ask everyone through this series: What advice would you give a high school student who is considering attending one of the service academies?
A: “First, I would say make sure that is 100 percent what you want to do and that you are committed to it. The second thing I would tell them is to make sure you do your homework - find out the expectations and find out what your daily life is going to be like because it will certainly be different. And the third thing would be - I was actually talking to a guy that ended up committing to Army about this - my biggest advice is that you have to take it day-to-day. When you start to look too far ahead you are going to lose sight and become overwhelmed. For me, I literally took it day-to-day. I told myself I was going to win that day and that literally got me through the four years there in terms of academics, the military training, and football. With that mindset you will eventually find yourself at the finish line.”
Q: Okay, final question. If I am in northeast Florida (I do call St. Augustine, Florida home) or just anywhere in the southeast of the country and I want to make it to a JU Dolphins game this fall, what game/day should I circle on my calendar and put at the top of the list?
A: “That is a good one. I would probably say San Diego. We will play them at home this year and that will be the one. They have kind of been the Alabama of our conference for last three or four years.”
Q: That is quite the geographical conference to have San Diego in there.
A: “It is pretty crazy. It presents its challenges - that’s for sure. But, it makes it fun.”
Q: Well I will keep an eye out for that one as a north Florida resident myself. Trent, thanks again. We really do appreciate you taking some time out of your day to help us with this installment.
A: “Hey man, I appreciate it. I am always doing whatever I can to help out the academies. It means a lot to me.”