Army players hope to top success of the last year
By SAL INTERDONATO | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: August 30, 2018
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Cole Christiansen's voice is booming with confidence. Christiansen, one of three Army captains, is asked what's next for one of college football's rising programs.
Army's 18 victories over the last two years are tied for ninth among non-Power Five schools. Winning seasons are all Christiansen and the junior class have experienced since stepping on post. A 2-0 record against rival Navy and back-to-back bowl rings aren't enough for Christiansen.
Expectations continue to rise at West Point after a 10-victory season and claiming the Commander in Chief's trophy for the first time in 21 years.
"This is a statement year for us to legitimize our team as a real force in college football," said Christiansen, Army's middle linebacker. "We don't want people to feel the past two years were a fluke. This year is a statement year to prove that we are better than ever."
Center Bryce Holland and his teammates want their names mentioned in the same sentence with the golden years of West Point football and the academy's three national championships (1944, 1945 and 1946).
"One of our goals is to be one of the greatest Army football teams in history," said Holland, a fifth-year senior and two-year starter. "That's the big excitement for me, to go out there and really show what this team can be."
How does this Army team top the success of last year?
The current college football landscape precludes any national title talk. Central Florida won all 13 of its games and wasn't extended an invitation to the four-team playoff last season.
It's been 60 years since an Army football team went unbeaten. Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins led the 1958 squad to an 8-0-1 record.
Jeff Monken didn't completely dismiss the question when asked if the prospects of going undefeated had been mentioned in the preseason. He answered with a coach's twist.
"Once a week," Monken said. "That's all we want to do is go undefeated once a week. It's silly to talk about that (going undefeated for the season). Some of those games are months away. We got one game that we are concerned with and that's the Duke game (Friday on the road) and we are going to try our best to win that game.
"It's how we have been able to have some success over the last two years. It's not looking a long way into the future. It's concentrating on the next game."
Physical and mental toughness helped Army win six games last season by a touchdown or less, including two in overtime. That same attitude is required for early road tests at Duke and No. 7 Oklahoma (Sept. 22).
"Obviously, it's every team's goal to be 13-0," said senior fullback and co-captain Darnell Woolfolk. "We want to focus on what's right in front of us, not the big picture. If we keep grinding every day, every rep, every week, it will turn into something that when we look up we will say 'Wow, we did something great.' With that mentality good things will come."
Woolfolk brings up the preseason buzzword — complacency. Not all has been flawless this summer. Monken called out everyone on Army's travel squad except for the equipment managers and trainers after a lackluster second scrimmage two weeks before the season opener. The execution of offense, defense and special teams wasn't crisp enough. Communication between the coaching staff was lacking.
"If you take all of the negative things that happened for us with the guys that are the so-called travel squad, there were enough things there that it would keep us from winning just about every game that we play," Monken barked after the scrimmage.
The strive for perfection continues.
Members of the Army football team walk past the Commander in Chief's Trophy, which they won last season for the first time in 21 years, before a ceremony at the White House, May 1, 2018. Watching them in the foreground is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a West Point graduate.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES