For Army coach Jeff Monken, the sky’s the limit as he begins his fourth season at West Point.
“People might think that it’s crazy to say, but my expectation is to win every week,” Monken said. “This year, we’ve got 12 games scheduled. If we’re going to lose five of them, I don’t want to be the one to pick the five we’re going to lose.”
Army is coming off a rare winning season that was capped by something even rarer — a victory over archrival Navy. That hadn’t happened since 2001, and the Black Knights punctuated it with an overtime bowl victory over North Texas to finish 8-5.
It marked just the second time the Black Knights had beaten Navy and won a bowl game in the same season, duplicating a feat first accomplished in 1984 under Jim Young. Still, the comeback 21-17 win over the Midshipmen was the pinnacle of what was just the school’s second winning season since 1996.
“It was great to get that victory,” said Monken, a former assistant at Navy. “From a program standpoint, you’ve got to win the rivalry games sometime. It’s no rivalry if one team never wins. It’s a personal responsibility of mine to try to win that game.
“Having been on the other side of it and having had success on the other side, I guess I felt more sense of urgency to be a part of the team that ended the streak,” Monken said. “I was really proud of our team. It was a real thrill for all of us to finally break the streak and put it behind us. I hope it lasts. I hope we can find a way to do it again.”
Other things to know about Army:
RUN RUN RUN
Rich Ellerson brought back the triple option when he took over as coach in 2009 and Monken has fine-tuned it. Last season, Army averaged 339.4 yards per game, second in the nation, and is poised to excel again. The team’s top three rushers all return, junior fullbacks Andy Davidson (961 yards, 12 TDs) and Darnell Woolfolk (600, nine TDs), and senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (824, eight TDs), as do four starting linemen.
“It (the run game) has got to be good,” Monken said. “We’re not going to win many football games if we try to throw the ball. We’ve got to try to run the ball and stop the run. Our philosophy is based on that.”
Although the victory over Navy was more than seven months ago, it’s having a lasting effect.
“Just being able to beat them was a huge step for us. I think there is a difference (in the team’s mindset),” said senior defensive lineman John Voit. “Coming off a great season we have higher expectations. Coming into camp, I think there was higher intensity.”
CIC OR BUST
There’s one item that’s been missing from Army’s trophy case far too long — the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which is awarded annually to the winner of the three-way series among the service academies. Air Force has captured it 20 times, Navy 15 and Army just six, the last in 1996.
“We really want to get better,” Voit said. “The CIC Trophy next and beating Air Force there (Falcon Stadium) is the next step.”
Army lost an awful lot with the graduation of linebackers Jeremy Timpf and Andrew King, and not only the 209 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks they combined for in 2016. They were an integral part of a senior class Monken praised for its leadership. Bradshaw, whose late touchdown sank Navy last December, is ready to assume the mantle and has more than a dozen classmates to help. Among them are LBs Scott Washle and James Nachtigal, who are expected to replace Timpf and King.
“It’s my class now,” Bradshaw said. “I think we have a bunch of guys who came to this school to be leaders, who can lead on and off the field. I think that’s our biggest strength. The class last year taught us a lot about leadership.”
Army struggled on special teams in 2016, missing three extra-point kicks and hitting only 6 of 12 field goals. The Black Knights also were awful punting with a net average of 33.19, better than only two (Georgia State and Rutgers) of the 128 FBS teams. Of the three Army players who punted, only J.D. Mote (36.27) averaged over 36 yards and Nick Schrage had one blocked.
“It cost us some football games not being able to kick the ball better than we did,” Monken said. “The punting game’s got to improve. We were as poor as anybody in the country. Hopefully, we’re going to have a guy that’ll emerge from the pack. Right now, I couldn’t tell you who our punter is going to be.”
Army begins the season at Michie Stadium against Fordham on Sept. 1, two weeks before it travels to Ohio State.