Army football: 5 things to watch this season
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Army coach Jeff Monken has reached a crossroads of sorts — he has built the Black Knights into a winner, and now he wants to keep the success going at a high level.
Not so easy at West Point, where sustained football excellence has been a tall task.
These Black Knights are ready for that challenge as Monken prepares for his fifth season.
"We're trying to avoid complacency," senior safety James Gibson said. "We've had two good years, but nobody cares about that, so we shouldn't, either. We've got to keep building off that success by doing the things we did to get there so we can stay there.
"We don't want to say, 'Oh, we were 10-3 last year, we should win every game.' No. We have to go work."
Army beat rival Navy for the second straight time last season to place those embarrassing 14 straight losses to the Midshipmen further in the rearview mirror. The Black Knights also defeated Air Force (a 21-0 shutout that ended a 306-game scoring streak by the Falcons), won their second straight bowl game, and took home the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy as top dog among the three service academies for the first time since 1996. The upset win over San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl gave the Black Knights 10 victories for only the second time in academy history.
That's a big haul.
Not big enough.
"I'm not satisfied. We only won 10 and we played 13 games," Monken said. "It was a fun year and I'm really proud of our team and the accomplishments. Hopefully, our guys are hungry and feel like they've got something to prove and play for and are not satisfied with having won 10 games. We're going to try to be a better football team."
Five things to watch:
1. QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: Monken's biggest chore is figuring out who takes over under center. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw averaged 7.2 yards per carry in setting a school record with 1,746 yards rushing in his final year. Senior Luke Langdon, junior Kelvin Hopkins Jr., and sophomore Cam Thomas are vying for the starting job. None has played a full game at the position.
So proud of @RealAli17. All-time leading single-season rusher in service academy football history. Graduate of @WestPoint_USMA and newly commissioned 2nd Lt. in @USArmy. #ArmyStrong #BEATnavy! @ArmyWP_Football pic.twitter.com/fpxRH5N7bz— Jeff Monken (@CoachJeffMonken) August 11, 2018
2. TURNOVER KINGS: Army led the nation in rushing last year with 4,710 yards, averaging 6 yards a carry and 362.3 yards a game, and scored 50 TDs on the ground as its option attack excelled. The Black Knights held the ball for an average of nearly 35 minutes and lost only four fumbles in 785 rushing plays, an impressive display of ball security that will be difficult to match.
"That was really important," Monken said. "That made a huge, huge difference for us in controlling the ball."
3. DYNAMIC DARNELL: Fullback Darnell Woolfolk is poised for a standout senior season. He is on the preseason watch lists for the Walter Camp player of the year and Maxwell awards. Woolfolk has been a grinder, rushing for 1,412 yards and 23 scores over the last two seasons. Last fall, he averaged 81 yards rushing per game and 5.2 yards per carry. The trick will be to stay healthy. His career-high, 132-yard performance against Temple clinched a bowl berth for the Black Knights.
4. MR. DO-IT-ALL: Junior running back Kell Walker is on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the most versatile player in major college football. Walker has played multiple positions in the backfield and has contributed to special teams. Last season he averaged over 100 all-purpose yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry, gaining 629 yards on just 86 attempts. He also led the Black Knights with 111 yards receiving on five catches and averaged 20.8 yards on kickoff returns (543 yards total).
"I think we've got some good players and some guys that have been around the program and are veterans," Monken said. "That's good to have guys like that."
5. SEASON OPENER: Army opens its season on the road against Duke on Aug. 31. The Black Knights edged the Blue Devils 21-16 in the home finale last fall, giving Army a perfect record at Michie Stadium for the first time since 1996.