Army finished spring with a visit to the White House after a standout season.
The Black Knights were invited to Washington on Tuesday to receive the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Army beat both Air Force and Navy in the same season for the first time since 1996 to earn the trophy.
“It was a great experience for everybody,” Army coach Jeff Monken said Friday. “There’s not a bunch of teams that get invited to the White House. It’s nice to be one of them.”
Monken enters his fifth year coming off a stellar 10-3 campaign , only the second double-digit win total for a season in West Point history. Come fall, for the first time in his tenure at the academy, he’ll field a team comprised solely of players he’s recruited. But he sure did OK with what he had.
Army rushed for 4,710 yards to lead the nation and scored 50 touchdowns on the ground last year, averaging 6 yards a carry on 785 rushing attempts behind standout quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw.
The secret to the success that matched the school record for wins in a season was ball security. In 850 total plays, the Black Knights lost just five fumbles, and one of those came deep in Army territory on a punt return late in the season at North Texas. The Mean Green quickly converted the mistake into a TD en route to a three-point victory, Army’s lone setback in its final nine games.
“I think the coaches have done a really good job of emphasizing that (ball security), and our kids have taken a lot of pride in taking care of the ball,” Monken said. “They realize that’s probably the single biggest factor in whether we’re going to win or lose a game.”
Spring ball concluded five weeks ago with the annual black and gold game , and Monken thought the team made some decent progress.
“I hope we got some of our young guys a little better and prepared them for the fall, to get in games and play,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to work on.”
One of the most pressing tasks ahead is retooling an offensive line that included standout Brett Toth, a 6-foot-5, 303-pound right tackle, and was integral to the team’s running success. Bryce Holland, who will play a fifth year after missing his sophomore season with an injury, is the lone returning starter.
“We’re going to miss guys like that (Toth),” Monken said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the guys that are going to step in and take their place develop.”
Monken also has to replace Bradshaw, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry in setting a school record with 1,746 yards rushing. Army has five quarterbacks on the roster heading to summer camp in early August. The staff isn’t ruling anything out, even using a rotation.
Speedy slotback Kell Walker took snaps at QB all spring and played the position in the spring game along with sophomore Kelvin Hopkins Jr., freshmen Cam Thomas and Christian Anderson and junior Luke Langdon. None has played a full game at the position.
“I think there’s a way to do that (share the position),” Monken said. “I think it’s important that a guy establishes himself as a quarterback and is the leader of the team as the quarterback, but we’ll see.
“To win is what’s important. If that’s what it takes, then we’re certainly open to doing that.”
The team also elected three new captains — Holland, junior FB Darnell Woolfolk, and LB Cole Christiansen, who was second on the team in tackles (84) as a sophomore.
“He (Christiansen) is such a tremendous leader,” Monken said. “I think the guys really respect him as a leader. It’s how he’s asserted that leadership in his role over the last year or so.”