A recurring theme I have heard interviewing players from service academy teams over the years is that the bond shared between teammates becomes a true brotherhood, a byproduct of those players standing side-by-side in their military training.
A football game does not even begin to heal the pain of losing a teammate; a friend; a brother, as the case is for the Army West Point Black Knights. The process of coping with cornerback Brandon Jackson’s death in an automobile accident last Sunday will be long. In the meantime, all Army West Point can do is honor his memory, which head coach Jeff Monken referenced last week.
“We wanted to do it in a way that Brandon would be proud,” Monken said via Today’s U.’s Tom Shanahan. “I think our guys certainly handled the first opportunity to get back and workout and I am sure that will continue.”
Army West Point’s first game without Jackson validated Monken’s confidence that the Black Knights would continue making their fallen teammate proud. The 66-14 win at UTEP reached several historic milestones, per GoArmyWestPoint.com:
– Most points scored since a 1958 defeat of Colgate
– Largest margin of victory on the road since 2008
– First 3-0 start since 1996, the Black Knights’ penultimate bowl-game appearance. They last played in the postseason in 2010, which was Army West Point’s last time opening a season 2-0. Related, both Army West Point and rival Navy are 3-0 for the first time since 1960.
Through this impressive start, the Black Knights have yet to allow an opponent more than 14 points and won by multiple touchdowns in all three games. Their next opponent, Buffalo, is averaging just 15 points per game. A bye week follows that date with the Bulls, then the Black Knights travel to Duke, where the Blue Devils are averaging 25 points per game.
The schedule sets up nicely for the defense to continue dominating.
Offensively running back Andy Davidson ranks No. 18 in the nation in rushing yardage, and only four players in FBS have more than his six rushing touchdowns: one is presumptive Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson; another, Kalen Ballage, scored eight; and a third, Donnel Pumphrey, is mounting his own Heisman campaign and re-writing San Diego State record books.
Indeed, the leader of Army West Point’s multifaceted rushing approach is in some exclusive company.
The Black Knights’ next win will match the single-season high watermark in Monken’s brief tenure as head coach. He’s leading a quick turnaround, not unlike that of Paul Johnson’s at Navy, with Monken on staff in the early 2000s.
Johnson took over a long struggling program and won eight games by his second year, leaving behind a brand of Navy football that consistently competes every year. Monken’s in the early phases of following a similar path, right down to his success at Georgia Southern preceding his move to Army West Point.
Monken arrived in 2014, finished 4-8 in Year 1 and regressed to 2-10 in Year 2. Army West Point’s Year 3 turnaround seems sudden, given last season’s record.
However, taking the best Navy team in a half-century to the brink of last December’s Army-Navy Game foreshadowed the breakthrough to come. That was an outstanding, defensive effort — one of the best any opponent had against the Mids all season. Jackson made six tackles and broke up a pass in the 21-17 contest.
His void won’t be quantified with statistics, nor should it be. His absence goes far beyond a spot in the Army West Point secondary. As the Cadets continue on what looks more every week like a special season, they can only play in the memory of their brother.
Army West Point football deserves salutes from the entire sport in that process.