A.J. Schurr found out he was the starting quarterback for Army West Point against Penn State last Sunday.
At halftime Saturday, he was vomiting into a bucket on the sideline.
“I just get anxious,” he said, laughing, after a 20-14 loss to Penn State at Beaver Stadium. “It’s not like, anything out of the ordinary. I usually throw up before every game.”
At the half, Army trailed Penn State 10-0, a manageable deficit, despite the Black Knights’ five fumbles to that point, three of which were recovered by the Nittany Lions.
Schurr got walloped after handing the ball off to his fullback, Matt Giachinta, just before the half ended. That’s when what he didn’t lose before the game came out of him.
“I got the wind knocked out of me, and I came off onto the sideline and was like, ‘Whoop, it didn’t come up before the game, so here it is now,’” he said.
“It kind of felt like, (starting quarterback) Ahmad (Bradshaw) said to me, you know, because I do it before every game and it’s kind of like a pregame ritual, he came up to me and said, ‘Well, did you throw up before the game?’ I said ‘No.’ He goes, ‘You’re a half late, you just needed to get that out of your system.’”
Bradshaw was right. Because in the second half, Schurr thrived.
In the opening half, the 6-foot, 209-pound senior quarterback carried the ball nine times for 20 yards in Army’s triple option attack, fumbled three times and didn’t throw once. In fact, when he stepped back on a single snap to look for a target, he was drilled by Penn State’s Jason Cabinda.
Schurr finished the game with 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries (and just one completed pass on one attempt, for 32 yards).
His biggest moment came in the final quarter, when a midline option play widened a hole for him up the middle. He scampered out to the sideline when teammates Joe Walker and Victor Nieves blocked for him, and he high-stepped past diving, reaching Penn State corner Grant Haley for a 56-yard touchdown.
The score brought Army within six points of Penn State. It also increased the Black Knights’ yardage lead over the Nittany Lions — Army held the edge in total offense with 293 yards to Penn State’s 264.
And for a moment, the strangely silent, and very soggy and sparse crowd at Beaver Stadium, and the Army players on the field, thought the visitors might just mount a comeback.
Cabinda, who sent Schurr into the turf on the latter’s first go-round, spoiled momentum minutes later with a sack on a fourth down with five yards — and the game — to gain.
But for a moment ...
“If you don’t feel like you have a chance to win, I don’t see why you’d even get on the bus,” said Army head coach Jeff Monken after the game, who said his players truly believed they had a shot to upend the Nittany Lions.
Schurr sat slumped in his seat when his time to speak to media came. He was bleeding from his right hand, and cut on his left arm, and the red threatened to blend with the tattoo of a rose on his bicep. His jersey was stained with a mixture of grass and blood. His lip was swollen.
“Part of the thing, our plan, is ‘Don’t flinch,’” he said. “That just means, until its the fourth quarter and there’s four ‘zeros’ on the clock, believe that you’re going to win the game.”
He had his left wrist taped. On it were the letters “BR.”
After, outside of the visitor’s media room, in the dripping air as Penn State fans walked by, some chattering to him about how impressed they were by his performance, he revealed what it meant.
“Become Remarkable,” he said.
“Anything that you do, you should try to strive to be the best that you can be.”
Schurr got hit hard, and he got hit often. He was sacked three times for 19 yards and got knocked around a lot more than that. The senior had been thought, according to local media, to be slated as the starter for the Black Knights for the last three years. But a slew of injuries had set him back, the most recent of which was shoulder surgery that helped seal Bradshaw at starter.
Schurr kept coming back.
Against Penn State, in the rain and 45-degree weather, and with a line in which one member weighs less than the Nittany Lions’ 259-pound kicker, Joey Julius, he kept coming, “kept shooting, like we got unlimited ammunition,” he said. “Kept choppin’ wood.”
“Me and my buddy always joke around, there’s a movie quote (that says) ‘He’s a resilient guy,’” he said. “I think that, in a person, is a great quality to strive for. Just being resilient. Because it’s really easy to perform your best and be positive when everything is going your way, but, you know, when things don’t go your way, I think that’s a true testament of someone’s character.”
Schurr doesn’t know when Bradshaw will play again — or, that’s a question deferred to Monken. The younger signal-caller was dressed and on the sideline during the game.
So, Schurr’s time running Army’s offense might be limited. And as a senior at a West Point, he’s off to serve his country after he graduates.
He wants to be in the infantry. It’s the closest thing he could find, he said, to being on a football team.
“You put your preference in, of what you want,” he said. “You hear ‘infantry’ and you think of foot soldiers (who get shot at), but everyone gets shot at,” he said. “To be honest, everyone who’s serving our country is putting themselves in harm’s way to protect this country.
“You’re working with a group of people, and you’re doing things physically, and you’re out there, whether you’re sleeping in the woods or movin’ and shootin’, I don’t know, it’s just something that ... sometimes you can’t put your finger on it, but you know it’s exactly what you want to do. It’s just something that I see myself doing.”
And suddenly, in the dismal air after an ugly Penn State win that was an almost-loss, one that hosted a handful of West Point cadets who stood in the nosebleeds in their winter wools — and did not sit the entire game; after watching Schurr go, and get drilled, and then go again, and heave his guts out on the sideline, and then go back for more, and then hearing about his future after football ... Beaver Stadium in its behemoth stature, and the game itself, and the stories after, felt compartmentalized, shrunken, by the perspective and the toughness of a kid who just kept coming back.