By Tommy Gilligan, West Point Public AffairsDecember 15, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Dec. 15, 2010) -- As the college football season draws to an end, many athletes' helmets are inundated with stickers representing the accomplishments they earned over the season. Ohio State places a Buckeye Leaf for making a good play, while the University of Georgia places a White Bone for "football excellence" and Black Bone for "academic excellence."
However, at West Point, the Ranger tab that is placed on the helmet takes on another meaning altogether.
A Soldier who earns the Ranger tab is viewed by his peers as synonymous with excellence, determination and pride in completing any mission that is presented to him.
Army head coach Rich Ellerson holds many of these same philosophies in the way he sets the standards for his team.
"We do not have many awards and they all revolve around the Ranger Club," Ellerson said.
To earn a Ranger Tab for a performance in a game is by no means easy to achieve. While a player may make ESPN's daily Top Ten Play, that is not one of the deciding factors in the award.
"The coaches and I grade the game tape once for assignment and technique and then review it again and issue a second grade for effort," Ellerson, a finalist for Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, said.
The criteria to be selected and get a Ranger tab on their helmets, players must compete in the following manner:
- No selfish penalties; for example celebration or fighting
- No mistakes that expose Army to turnovers on offense or the kicking game
- No mistakes that cost Army the opportunity to get a "take away" on defense or the kicking game
- Perfect effort. Playing as hard as they can from the snap to the whistle.
"These are 'choices' as well as a guide on how to prepare and what to value," Ellerson said. "I may give a guy a job he just flat out can't do based on the quality of the opponent. That's my mistake and has nothing to do with how hard he plays. He can still be in the Ranger Club."
The player who receives the most tabs throughout the season earns the "Black Lion" award in honor of former Army football great Don Holleder (Class of 1956), who was killed in combat in Vietnam Oct. 17, 1967, and the men of the 28th Infantry Regiment (nicknamed the "Black Lions") who died with him that day.
Last season, Firstie defensive lineman Mike Gann earned this award. The members of the Black Knights football team hold this award in the highest regard.
"The Ranger tab is not easy to wear, it is more of a privilege than any type of award," Firstie offensive tackle Jason Johnson said. "It represents the elite, the few men who go out every day in harm's way and give everything they have for the man standing next to them."
Johnson aspires to go to Ranger School after he is commissioned as an Infantry officer.
"We as cadets have embraced what the Ranger tab means, and coach has ensured it for the players who represent the relentless effort the Rangers show on the battlefield as we play on game day," Johnson said.
Firstie co-captain and All-American defensive end Josh McNary said it was a goal that he strives for every time he takes the field.
"It's about putting forth dogged effort and detailing each assignment to perfection every single play," McNary said. "The Ranger tab is a distinguishing award that represents a display of mental toughness from the first play to the final whistle of the game."
As the Black Knights gear up for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 30 in Dallas against the Mustangs from Southern Methodist University, every player on the team will strive to practice and prepare in the spirit of those whom wear the Ranger tab on their helmet and those who presently and have worn the scroll in combat.