“I told him, `You know what? I'm not going to go through this just to play football,“' Trent said. “He hung up the phone.”
Well, not really.
“I didn't hang up,” Bob Steelman said. “I told him, `You don't have a place to stay if you don't stay until Christmas and give it a shot.' They hadn't even started football yet.”
Turns out, Steelman was distraught because he had been caught in a surprise inspection talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone. He didn't get punished, but all of his classmates did and he had to call out their punishment.
“He was the most unpopular guy at the prep school for about a week and a half,” Bob Steelman said with a chuckle.
The stars aligned for Steelman when Army hired Rich Ellerson as coach prior to the 2009 season. Ellerson went against academy tradition in naming Steelman the starter at quarterback as a freshman.
“It was tough but, as a plebe, he had the style of play we were trying to install,” Ellerson said. “He was the most competent guy and had grown up in a similar offense. He was more physically prepared. He's always been fiercely competitive and incredibly tough.”
Steelman started the first 32 games of his Army career before suffering a high ankle sprain in a loss at Vanderbilt last season, racking up the yards while often playing hurt in an offense where the quarterback takes a beating on just about every play.
That's why some NFL scouts have come to take a look and why Steelman will play in an all-star game after the season.
“It's just been all blood and guts to make it happen,” said Bob Steelman, a standout wide receiver in the 1970s at Appalachian State, where Fisher DeBerry was his position coach before his stellar tenure as coach at Air Force. “I think people in the football world recognize that. That's something you can't teach — intestinal fortitude. He's played with broken ribs, a separated shoulder.
“I guess the records are some rewards for his perseverance and staying tough.”
Perhaps what is most impressive about Steelman is how he has dealt with the losing. Though he has led Army to 16 wins, including a victory over SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl two years ago, this season has been trying.
It can summed up in a game vs. Northern Illinois on Sept. 15.
The Black Knights, who have led the country in rushing almost the entire season, ran for 486 yards, held the ball for more than 42 minutes, and still lost, 41-40, to the Huskies at Michie Stadium.
“That's the problem that Trent's faced, and I have to take my hat off to him because he's won his whole life,” said Bob Steelman, who finds it “surreal” that only Davis was responsible for more touchdowns at West Point than his son. “He's definitely disappointed, but they don't quit. They know they have the potential. They're going to give it their all until the end of the game.
“It's frustrating for Trent, but he's still there for his teammates and they're still brothers, and they still feel like they can beat the world.”
On Saturday, beating Navy would simply be enough, though. But win or lose, the world of football that Steelman has known most of his life is nearing its end. It is a sobering thought for a man possessed by the game, someone who went from playing flag football to waking up every day at 5:30 a.m. for practice at West Point.
It does go fast, doesn't it?
“When I have any opportunity to put a football in my hand, no matter the outcome, I'm happy,” Steelman said. “Even after four years of playing at this level, I find something new about myself every day. I find something every day that I can get better at. That's the type of attitude I bring to life, just knowing that I'm never perfect and never will be perfect. “Not ever playing football again is going to be something I'm going to have to get over. It's going to take a while, but at the same time I'm ready to try new things in life. I'm ready to have a great military career.”