December 13, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following profile on Michael “Momo” Kime is written by Drake D’Ambra, a 2009 Culver Military Academy graduate. D’Ambra is a senior at Ball State University majoring in journalism. Kime will be playing in his first – and last – Army-Navy game Saturday. The game will be broadcast on CBS at 3 p.m. EST.

By Drake D’Ambra ’09

Michael “Momo” Kime is a senior, three-year starter on the offensive line and captain for the Army Black Knights. Despite opening the season as an Army starter the last three seasons, he’s never played in the coveted Army-Navy game.

Momo graduated in 2010 from Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind., and headed to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., to play football. After surviving basic training, Momo called home, the first time he was able to speak to his parents, Bill and Terri Kime, since they dropped him off. “I picked up the phone and [Momo] said, ‘Dad, I don’t know if I can play here,’” Bill recalls. “So I’m having to play the old man, former football player and encourage him to stick it out through his freshman, plebe year.”

Bill took an identical path 30 years before Momo. After graduating from CMA in 1980, Bill attended West Point to play football. He wore No. 78, played offensive tackle and was a team captain. The advice Bill gave Momo under the “old man, former football player” role did the trick. Today, Momo wears No. 78, plays offensive tackle and is a team captain of the Black Knights, just like his father. Bill and Momo are the first father and son to be captain of the Army football team.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Bill said of the similarities. “Just sheer pride. I think the biggest thing I’ve enjoyed is knowing what he’s going through and watching the progression he’s made.”

Although the two share similar paths, it would be hard to pair them up as father and son without knowing them. Momo, an undersized offensive lineman, stands six feet on a good day and weighs 240 pounds. “He might be the smallest tackle in football, but he can play because of his technique and relentlessness,” Momo’s former CMA head coach Andrew Dorrel said. Bill is quite the opposite. He towers over people standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall. He is the ultimate man’s man by anyone’s standard. His bone-crushing handshake is notorious among Momo’s friends.

Filling the giant shoes of Bill is no small task, and one that burdened Momo for many years. “I wanted to be Michael Kime because I was sick of being Bill’s son,“ Momo said. As captain of the Black Knights, he’s outgrown Bill’s large shadow that used to engulf him. “Last year [Momo] passed me and this year he’s way ahead of me,” Bill said. It took Momo many conversations with his father to outgrow the shadow cast upon him. But now, Momo’s created his own story.

“Despite the historical precedence of his father, Momo’s been able to carve his own story,” CMA football coach Kevin Danti said. “It’s a story of resilience – getting back up when he had every excuse to quit.”

“It’s a story of resilience – getting back up when he had every excuse to quit.”

Entering his sophomore year, Momo competed for the starting center position with freshman Ryan Powis. “I ended up starting as a sophomore,” Momo said. “To everyone, including myself, it came as a surprise. [The coaches] were talking about giving [Powis] the job in the beginning – he was a stud freshman center – but I had such a good preseason camp that they had to give me a chance.”

With Momo listed as the No. 1 center on the depth chart, Army traveled to DeKalb, Ill., for the season opener against Northern Illinois in Huskie Stadium.

“I thought I was gonna throw up the whole time,” Momo recalls. “I walk onto the field and it’s a TV timeout. I look around and my heart is beating out of my chest. I look over at my guard looking for some sort of encouragement, and he says, ‘Will you set your ************ feet?’ Everything just dissipated. I thought it was gonna be like Rudy and everyone telling me I could do it.”

Just as quickly as the season started for Momo, it took an immediate left turn.

“It was the last offensive play of the half,” Momo said. “I was going up to the second level to block a linebacker and he cut underneath me and I pivoted and I just felt my ankle give out.”

Momo got up and walked off the field under his own power. The trainer tested Momo’s ankle and concluded he suffered a high ankle sprain. “It hurt, but I wasn’t gonna go out on the first game I ever started,” he said. The trainer had other plans and took Momo’s helmet away.

“I was happier than I’d ever been and it all came crumbling down.”

“It was a huge blow because I started and was on cloud nine,” Momo said. “I was happier than I’d ever been and it all came crumbling down. I’ve never gone from one extreme to the other. I was euphoric and then I was thinking about lying in front of the bus and having it run over me on the way out of the stadium.”

Determined to get back on the field, Momo worked his ankle with therabands, hydrotherapy, walking and jumping in the pool, and a Biomechanical Ankle Platform System Board. As Momo rehabbed, Powis overtook and replaced Momo as the starting center for the Black Knights.

Once Momo returned to full strength, the coaches found a way to get him back on the field. “I had such a good start to the season that when I recovered [the coaches] wanted to find me a place on the line, so they moved me to tackle,” Momo said. “I thought there was no way I could play tackle.”

Army doesn’t run a traditional offense where tackles are the biggest position on the offensive line. The Black Knights run a triple option where the guards are the biggest and the tackles are small and quick to get to the next level and block linebackers. “It turned out to be a perfect switch for me,” he said.

Momo returned in nine weeks in time to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Yankee Stadium. “I was more nervous for Rutgers than Northern Illinois because of my ankle,” he said. “I had doubt in my mind if I could play, but everything goes away after the first hit.”

Momo didn’t finish the game, but it wasn’t because of his ankle.

“About six minutes left in the game, I was going up to a linebacker, Khaseme Greene, who’s a starting linebacker for the Chicago Bears, he saw me and comes right back at me,” Momo said. “I hit him awkwardly and he popped my shoulder out of my socket and tore my labrum right off.”

The injury required surgery and ended Momo’s season – two games away from Navy.

Momo underwent surgery and rehabbed through the offseason to return for the start of his junior season. Momo got the start at tackle and played through a tough, 2-8 season for the Black Knights. In the midst of a poor season, Army was looking forward to the Army-Navy game, but still had one game left against Temple on Nov. 18 – Momo’s 21st birthday.

“It was in the second quarter,” Momo said. “I was backside on a pass play. They blitzed a linebacker late and the guard didn’t see him. Our quarterback dodged the blitzer, but he got enough of him so that his whole body swung around and hit the side of my knee. I fell to the ground and knew something happened, but I was in denial and thinking I just sprained it.”

The trainers conducted a test on Momo to see if he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. The test requires trainers to bend the knee and shake the bottom half of the leg. If the knee moves out of place, the ACL is torn.

“So the trainer shakes my leg, looks at me, I look at him, he clears his throat and walks away,” Momo said.

Momo tore his ACL and medial collateral ligament – one game away from Navy.

“It was just a huge blow because Army-Navy is our Super Bowl game, it’s our BCS bowl game,” he said. “I was so pumped to play in it. I was just so distraught, so upset I couldn’t play.”

Momo underwent successful knee surgery to repair his ACL and MCL, but the hardest part was yet to come: rehab. With an injury-riddled career and only 8 months before the start of his senior season, people could understand if Momo quit. But quitting isn’t in Momo’s DNA, not even when all seems lost.

“It was halftime of the sectional championship against Andrean [High School] and we were down by two or three scores,” Dorrel recalls. “We knew we had an uphill battle. [Momo] gathered the team and said, ‘We’re gonna play the best we can. It doesn’t matter the outcome because Culver always fights.’”

“Culver always fights” is more than a saying to Momo. He grew up around Culver, a military boarding school. He’s the third generation to attend the academy after his grandfather, father and uncles.

Even at a young age, Momo understood what Culver meant to his family. At Momo’s grandfather’s funeral, Momo read The Spirit of Culver:

The hope to win, the zeal to dare,
Contempt for what is base and mean,
Pride in achievement that is fair.
And high regard for what is clean
The strength that is in Brotherhood;
The courage that proclaims Success.
The will to strive for what is good,
And first and always, Excellence.

“I attended his grandfather’s funeral,” Dorrel recalls. “Momo read The Spirit of Culver with such maturity for a 12-year-old boy. He was able to share what Culver meant to his grandfather. The love [Momo] has for his family and CMA, before he even attended CMA, that’s what’s most memorable about him.”

Like Culver, Momo always fights. After knee surgery, Momo turned his attention to rehab. He went through quad rejuvenation, resistance training, biking and the dreaded elite seat, a knee extension device. “It’s a medieval torture device,” Momo explained.

Even though the excruciating pain begged Momo to quit, he never surrendered. He credits his teammates with getting him through the torture-like rehab. “The last thing I wanted to do was give up on my team,” he said. “They became my motivation. I didn’t want to be a liability to the team. It would have hurt much more to watch my fellow seniors on the field than go through the rehab.”

Momo returned from his injury eight months later, just in time for the start of his senior season against Morgan State. Although the season hasn’t gone as planned for Army (3-8), only one game remains on the schedule: Navy. And this season, Momo will take the field for the first time in his career against the Midshipmen.

“Saturday will be the crowning achievement of my athletic career,” he said.

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