Frank Agli isn't a football player, but he'll get to run the ball for the Midshipmen today as part of the excitement surrounding the 113th annual Army-Navy game today in Philadelphia.
Agli, a Galloway Township resident and a midshipman 1st class (fourth year) at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., will be part of the Army-Navy Game Ball Run.
The pre-game, two-day event is a 30-year-old tradition in which both service academies use more than 100 runners to bring a game ball from their campuses to the 50-yard line at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the game. Agli is part of the 13th Company at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., the company that always does the run.
"This is the fourth year I've been part of it, and I can tell you that it's a great experience for the Company," said Agli, 22, a 2008 Absegami High School graduate. "On the streets, people love it. They come out of their homes and cheer us on. There's a cop car in front and behind us, so people always know when we're coming. The traffic is stopped at intersections all the way, so we never really stop."
The U.S. Naval Academy is about 125.5 miles from the Linc, and West Point in New York is further away. Both game balls will be presented by the final runners prior to the 3 p.m. start of today's game.
Agli is the driver of the 13th and final Navy van this year. The vehicle will accompany approximately 15 fourth-year runners into the stadium. At that point, all of the final runners will hand the ball off to each other, and Agli will get to briefly run with the ball for the only time.
The Navy version of the run is divided into 13 legs of 10 miles apiece.
"We'll start our leg near Philly and then sit on the field at the beginning of the game," Agli said. "Then we'll go up into the midshipmen section, which will be a sea of white hats. The Army guys have grey hats, and we don't sit near them. We've beaten Army 10 times in a row and we really want to do that again."
Agli also is a member of the Navy crew team. He rowed in the men's third varsity eight for most of the spring season. Then he was in the men's varsity four, which finished sixth in the grand final at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's national championships in May on the Cooper River in Camden. At Absegami, he competed in the boys varsity eight.
Upon graduation next year, Agli intends to go to Navy flight school in Pensacola, Fla.
The Army-Navy Game Ball Run began in 1982 as a desire to get the "unlucky" 13th Company off the Naval Academy grounds. It evolved into a spirited tradition that's part of the annual game.
Midshipman 1st Class Tim Cadigan, of Baltimore, is the event coordinator of the Navy half of the Game Ball Run. Cadigan is Agli's roommate and a coxswain on the Navy crew team.
"It's really helpful that Frank has done the event all four years," said Cadigan said. "There's a lot of planning that goes into it. You're trying to create an event which builds excitement for the game, and at the same time you want it to be enjoyable for the participants. Some have never been involved with it before, and that's not just the plebes. Many of the policemen and other volunteers haven't done it before."
The run started at noon Friday at Annapolis after a speech by Capt. Robert E. Clark II, the academy commandant.
"It was a very exciting start," said Cadigan. "Many of the parents of the 13th Company were there. It shows the kind of hype that builds around the Army-Navy game. We show the plebes (first-year midshipmen) the history of the run, with films and other memorabilia. It gives them a sense of belonging after a tough year with a lot of responsibilities."
Agli won the Army-Navy T-shirt design contest this year at Annapolis, and also won it as a plebe.
"I'll see people wearing the T-shirt, and I say to myself, 'Hey, I designed that,' " said Agli.
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