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Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country, and Football at West Point Hardcover – September 4, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Conversation between Jim Dent and Joe Drape about Soldiers First

Joe Dent

Joe Drape, the author of the best-selling book Our Boys, is an award-winning sports reporter for The New York Times and the author of Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country, and Football at West Point, just published by Times Books. Jim Dent is the author of several best-selling books, including The Junction Boys and Courage Beyond the Game. His new project is The Kids Got It Right, about the integration of high school football in Texas.

Dent: You have a remarkable gift for seizing a story and then living it. This was especially true with Our Boys. Now you have brought the Army football program into focus by jumping on the train and writing Soldiers First. How much fun did you have traveling to West Point and spending that much time with the team?

Drape: You know better than most that when there is no fun it is just work. I really didn't have much knowledge on the history, football or otherwise, of West Point and to even know what the story was I felt like I had to walk the grounds, be in the locker rooms and classrooms and on the military training grounds and get to know these guys. It's the discovery part that is the most important part. We're never too old to learn, and the more you know the better the story.

Dent: You also included your son, Jack, in the story. Has he read it and how much fun did he have?

Drape: Without Jack, there's no book. He gave me the idea one night while we were watching the Notre Dame-Army game. I'm an Irish fan from the Parseghian or Resurrection era of your book. I had an uncle who taught there and my oldest brother graduated from Notre Dame. We made a football game every year. But as soon as Jack saw the pregame show about Army with the marching and parachuting he was sold. His favorite toys were those little green Army men and he said, "Let's go see the good guys, Dad." You and I are Southern Methodist University graduates and we've both seen what the best football team money could buy looks like. College football has been scandal-ridden for a long time. I went looking for the good guys, too. Jack and I had a ball, and we will for a long time now as season ticket holders.

Dent: Long ago, it was said that only baseball could provide the vehicle to intriguing sports stories. I think you will now agree with me that football is the king of great sports books. How did you develop your feel for the sport?

Drape: I'd argue football is really our national pastime because it's truly a team game. It can be brutal and you must rely on the guy next to you to do his job or it can be bone-crunching if he doesn't. It revolves around trust and camaraderie and usually there's a coach who uses charisma and fear to make you execute his vision. You wrote about Bear Bryant in The Junction Boys. I've written now about Coach Roger Barta in Smith Center and Rich Ellerson at Army and their philosophies and methods are all different, but all three of them taught life lessons and tried to develop character in their players. At heart, they are great educators and they have to be. I still don't fully understand the triple option-–it might as well be calculus. But I do understand human nature and I'm fascinated about how you get 120 guys juggling an Ivy League workload with state-of-the-art military training to prepare for literally a life-or-death career, to come together on a football field and compete well and with pure joy.

Dent: We both began our writing careers in the newspaper business. There are a lot of "ink-stained wretches" out there, like Michael Connell, making it big in the book business. I believe that deadline writing sharpened my skills. I just bet you feel the same way.

Drape: You've made it big, too. Hell, I still am in the newspaper business and I absolutely love it. I like the variety of subjects and the immediate gratification you get of breaking a big story or writing one pretty well. It’s like a golf swing-–the more you practice, the better you are. You learn to trust your instincts and you know immediately what is poetry and what's cliche. We both have sat in stadiums with a 100,000 people roaring and we have twenty minutes to write a thousand words that capture the magic we have all just witnessed--to tell an epic tale in miniature. I think you'll agree with this: I can look back at deadline stories done in minutes and know that some of them were the best writing I will ever do. I led with my heart, found a zone, and didn't over think it. It's good training for books or any other storytelling.


“What does it take to succeed with honor in America? Soldiers First answers that vital question in a compelling and entertaining way.” ―Bill O'Reilly, Anchor, Fox News Channel

“As a college head football coach for fifty-seven years, and as an avid fan of military history and the men and women who serve our country, I've always had a ton of respect and admiration for the United States Military Academy and its football program. In Soldiers First, Joe Drape does a great job of documenting the stories of the men who play football at West Point and then go on to protect all of us, becoming America's heroes.” ―Bobby Bowden, former head football coach, Florida State University

“Joe Drape, the master of living the story, then writing it with style and vision, has provided the leaders of college football a blueprint for change. Soldiers First is the story of how football was once played, and should be today. Most of the elite players in college football would not last two weeks at West Point – marching before dawn, competing academically on an Ivy League level, and sleepwalking to football practice. A tremendous story.” ―Jim Dent, author of The Junction Boys and Courage Beyond the Game

“West Point is a special place, one that tests cadets in all aspects of life and teaches character and leadership around the clock. Soldiers First captures its rigors as well as its rewards for a group of Army football players whose hearts are bigger than their talents but together find sheer joy in competition.” ―Mike Krzyzewski, head basketball coach, Duke University, West Point class of 1969

“If you are growing cynical about college football - and who isn't? - this book is your antidote. Joe Drape delivers first-class reportage into a Division I football program, West Point, and the military itself. His vivid scenes and stories will not allow you to look at any of those the same way again. Soldiers First is a revelation - and it is unforgettable.” ―John U. Bacon, bestselling author of Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805094903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805094909
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Anyone who loves college football has been mourning for the past few years as power after vaunted power has been humbled by scandal. Division I sports is reeling under the weight of investigations at schools such as Penn State, USC, Auburn, Miami and the University of North Carolina, with no end in sight.

Enter New York Times sportswriter Joe Drape and his latest offering, "Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country and Football at West Point." If Drape gets his way, we'll all view the Black Knights of Army as white knights -- scrubbed, honorable and dedicated but undersized competitors charging into the teeth of very large, talented opponents, daring to think they can win.

Off the gridiron, these athletes are the same men who'll loom large one day on the real battlefield -- and there's not a snap or a block, a punt or an interception that approaches the gravity of their lives after the cheering stops.

If ever there was a stirring story to be told, this would be it.

Using the 2011 football season as the backbone of his book, Drape introduces us to a group of players who've had their own ups and downs at West Point. Weaving their stories in through a game-by-game recollection of the season, Drape gives us glimpses of their harried, difficult lives as cadets and athletes at the world's most prestigious military academy.

He reminds us that the glory days of Army football -- its Heisman Trophy winners and its national championships -- are distant memories, but he encourages us to join in believing that Head Coach Rich Ellerson can restore Army to its rightful place in college football lore.

It is an uphill battle.
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By sosnows8 on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is another winner by Joe Drape. This is third book of his which I have read. I had the chance to read an advance copy this summer. Drape does a great job of taking the reader inside West Point football. He also helps readers understand the unique issues faced by West Point players that neither their commrades at Navy or Air Force face.

It is a true page turner which also shows that there are a few schools that still place integrity above winning.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding story about Tradition, Honor and Pride.
and just what it takes and means to play football at West Point.
I have an uncle that was a West Point alum, and as a swimming
coach, made sure that we made the annual swimming meet at both
West Point and Annapolis.
Soldiers First, gives you an inside look at what it football means, and
how much losing affects these young warriors, as you are taken along
for the ride, from Day One, through "Orders Day", and beyond.
I believe everyone should, take a walk on the hallowed grounds that make
up West Point, and reflect on all that those that have stood where you are
This is a great read during fall football season, but I have also re-read it, during
the Spring and Summer.
I highly recommend it.
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By Anderson on September 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The other reviewers are correct. This book is another winner by Drape. Book chronicles one season of the Army Football program. Drape gives an overview of what a season at West Point is like as well as the lives of a few very well chosen cadet/players. Great read for both military enthusiast as well as football fans. I have new respect for the Army football program and they have gained a new fan from this read. The Army program as described by Drape is what college football should be about.
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Format: Hardcover
"Soldiers First" is a chronicle of the 2011 Army football season written by Joe Drape. Mr. Drape was granted unfettered access to the United States Military Academy at West Point football program and reported what he saw and what the cadets on the football team experienced. I will not spoil any of the book by telling the uninformed reader how the 2011 Army football season turned out.

Mr. Drape provides the reader with a history lesson on West Point which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was enthralled at learning about the foundation of the academy, the brilliant military minds who have studied there, and how many of those brilliant students were connected to the Army football team. In these days of college football being dominated by big football conferences (apologies to Fighting Irish), it is easy to forget that Army football was a force to be reckoned with for a very long time. West Point's football history includes Heisman trophy winners and national championships.

The author is a reporter for The New York Times, and his writing, while often times very polished, often times reads like a very polished newspaper story. I enjoyed the experience that he gave me of learning the ins and outs of being an Army cadet on the football team, but I think I was looking for more. I admit that I am a college football fanatic. Interestingly, I think it may be because of my fervor for the sport that this read left me wanting more. I expected to learn (as I did) about the 2011 Army football season. But I WANTED to learn more about the life of the cadets away from the football team. The title of the book is `Soldiers' First, after all.
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