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LBs Arik Smith, Diego Fagot at heart of Army-Navy defenses

Breaking down the Army-Navy game isn’t as complex as other major college football rivalries.

As Army coach Jeff Monken usually states, running the football effectively and stopping the run are keys to winning any football game especially the Commander in Chief’s battles.

Both Army and Navy have experienced inside linebackers to lead the charge in defending the opposing team’s option offense.

Army’s Arik Smith and Navy’s Diego Fagot will play their final Army-Navy game Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The senior captains have slightly different personalities on the field. Smith is a stoic, cerebral player. Junior captain Marquel Broughton said Smith makes the job of Army’s starting safeties (Broughton and Cedrick Cunningham) easier with his instinctive play.

“Some people are just really good at football,” Broughton said. “He’s really good at football but he’s a professional. It makes game easier having Arik Smith in front of us.”

Smith unexplainably was left off the Pro Football Network all-Independent team (first and second teams) this season. Smith leads Army with 67 tackles and 8 quarterback hurries. The senior linebacker, who is from Bowie, Md. (less than a half hour from Annapolis) will start his third straight Army-Navy game. For his career, Smith has 232 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.

Earlier this week, Smith received the Defender of the Nation award, given to the service-academy player that exemplifies leadership qualities on the field, in the classroom and the community.

Fagot shows a fiery spirit and backs it up with his play. Army offensive coordinator Brent Davis said Fagot is a player that the Black Knights, “have to be aware of at all times.”

“Diego Fagot is an outstanding player,” Davis said. “You can just see the football IQ in the things that he does for them as far getting guys lined up, pointing out tendencies. The best football players make guys around them better and he certainly does that. He’s a great blitzer and has the knack for sliding off blocks and sliding through creases and jumping over people.”

Fagot, who will start his fourth Army-Navy game, was named to the American Athletic Conference first team for the second time this season. He has 273 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 interceptions and 2 touchdowns scored in his Navy career.

It’s a safe bet that Smith and Fagot will be in the middle of the action Saturday. Who will make the first big hit or big play might be a tougher question.

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