Shayne Buckingham may not have truly grasped the Army-Navy game’s importance early in his high school years.
Buckingham would change the channel after watching some of college football’s most storied rivalry.
“I thought it was boring because it was option football,” said Buckingham, then a quarterback at Dacula (Ga.).
Now, Buckingham’s appreciation couldn’t be higher. The Army senior 300-pound tackle is preparing for his last football game on the program’s biggest stage with the Commander in Chief’s trophy on the line for the Black Knights.
“It’s funny now that I’m on the Army team now, playing these games and seeing how important this game really is and what it means for the military service members and the history between Army and Navy.
Buckingham and many of Army’s senior class added to that history one year ago with a 20-17 double-overtime win over Navy in the first rivalry game to extend beyond regulation. He knows what it took to sing the academy’s alma mater second, one of the rewards to the victors, and Buckingham wants to experience it again in his final time suiting up as an Army football player. His motivation is simple.
“Mainly, I’m playing for my team and the relationships that I’ve built here,” Buckingham said. “I’m also playing for everybody that has served. I always think of that as well because the Army is the oldest (branch compared to) Air Force and Navy and just knowing the stories and the bravery that these soldiers had for this country is also a huge reason why I play.”
This game is bigger than football for Buckingham and his teammates. From the Corps of Cadets march on to some of the highest-ranking Army officers in attendance, there’s something more “patriotic” about Saturday more than any other.
“Naturally, you are going to play with more passion and emotion because you know what’s stake,” Buckingham said. “But, you can’t let that override your performance on the field.”
On the field, Buckingham and Army’s offense are coming off their biggest rushing game of the season, 365 yards in a win over Coastal Carolina Nov. 18. The Black Knights returned to their traditional under-center option over the new shotgun option in that victory.
“It felt good,” Buckingham said of the under-center option. “Most of the offensive linemen grew up in that system. It kind of felt natural. Now. I think both versions – the triple option and new offense – are both natural to us at this point of the season. But, bring under the center and just teeing off on the defenders, it was fun.
Army’s under-center success keeps Navy guessing on what scheme the Black Knights may favor Saturday.
“It puts them in a difficult spot because we’ve show that we can do both,” Buckingham said. “In the other academy game against Air Force (a 23-3 win), we were in the gun and we were still effective. Either or, whatever we decide to do, we’ll be fine, successful.”
Buckingham started his Army football career as a tight end. He dressed but did not play in the Army-Navy game his freshman and sophomore season. Buckingham played all 60 snaps at right tackle in the Navy win last season.
“For me personally, it’s all of the hard work that this team has been through and gone through especially with this season,” Buckingham said. “Saying we deserve to win and we deserve victory. That’s really my main motivator through these (Army-Navy) games. We put in the work and these are my brothers and you got to play the best for them.”