Josh Lingenfelter’s inspiration for his final Army-Navy game became clearer as Army’s bus neared Gillette Stadium Saturday.
Lingenfelter watched ESPN Gameday’s story on Stephen Dwyer and was compelled to bring the fallen Army helicopter pilot’s name to light during the game. Army’s senior tight end thought about honoring Dwyer, who died while in helicopter training over the Mediterranean Sea in November, earlier in the week.
The Army-Navy game brings out the best in what college football offers. Players from both sides give everything they have for the teammate to the left and right of them as well as family and friends who are serving or have served.
Before Lingenfelter took the field for warmups, he wrote the name “Dwyer” on his right arm.
“I wanted to honor him by playing for him,” Lingenfelter said. “So for me, I played the game for him and the people close to him. It was the right thing to do.
“I knew it would mean a lot to them and hopefully bring some light to the subject that there were people playing for him and (four) other people of that crash and other Gold Star families.”
Stephen Dwyer Sr. looked at his phone during the Army-Navy game, bowed his head and the emotions started. He showed his wife, Gail, a screenshot that a friend sent showing Black Knight Nation’s post of Lingenfelter warming up.
Gail Dwyer interviewed Lingenfelter for admissions into West Point more than five years ago. Dwyer said it felt like she was talking to one of her sons when interviewing a personable, hard-working, determined Lingenfelter. The two have kept in touch over the years. Dwyer, a 1981 West Point graduate, would check in on Lingenfelter informing him the different routes that would be available after service. She’d share her family’s stories of service. Steve Sr. graduated West Point in 1980 as well as their youngest son, Tim, in 2011. Lingenfelter would always give Dwyer feedback on his experiences. Dwyer followed the team and would congratulate Lingenfelter after wins.
“Josh has a servant heart and the grit to accomplish any goal he sets before him,” Gail Dwyer said. “He is a blessing to all who know him and to this nation he will serve.”
Lingenfelter never had the chance to meet Steve Jr. directly. Gail Dwyer sent Lingenfelter an email about a potential meeting while he was conducting his Cadet Troop Leadership Course training at Fort Campbell, Ky. Lingenfelter didn’t have access to his email at the time.
For Lingenfelter, it wasn’t as much about winning or losing Saturday. It was more about representing Dwyer the right way.
“It was not necessarily the outcome of the game but how I was going to play the game,” Lingenfelter said. “He (Dwyer) was a rugby player and I know he came back and coached rugby for a bit. My roommates are rugby players and they are pretty close.”
Lingenfelter could have more games to pay tribute to Dwyer in his future. NFL teams have inquired to Army head strength and conditioning coach Conor Hughes about Lingenfelter, a top blocking tight end. Lingenfelter is planning on spending most of his winter break, working out at West Point.
“He (Hughes) feels pretty confident and so does coach (Jeff) Monken,” Lingenfelter said about the prospects of the NFL. “I feel like there’s enough demand for me so I figure I’d give it a shot at least.
“If it doesn’t work out, I’ll still get to be an officer in Army. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I came here not even thinking I was going to see the field and sure enough it happened. I’m an open book. I’ll put my effort into it and see if it works out. If not, I still get to have the coolest job in the world. I won’t be disappointed either way.”
And, the Dwyer family will be cheering on Lingenfelter either way.