WEST POINT – The dawn of a new army football season arrived on Friday morning, with perfect weather and the appropriate enthusiasm for a program looking to build on the success of the 2020 season.
“It’s great to be back here with the brothers and to understand what this 2021 team will be like, to find out who we are,” said junior center and guard Connor Bishop. “I thought it was good practice, and I’m excited to move forward.”
“Everyone’s excited,” said head coach Jeff Monken, on the cusp of his seventh season overall and the fourth time after an appearance in a bowl. “I am delighted to be back there. The players, I know, are delighted to be there. ”
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West Point welcomes 72 freshmen in the 173 player program. As has been the case for the past few years, the Black Knights have divided the practice into morning and afternoon sessions, the best way to devote more teaching and safety protocols to practicing during the course. second year of the COVID pandemic. The rookies trained in the first session and the veterans in the second.
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“Our rookies (had their) first college football practice; you can imagine they’re just energized and loaded and happy to be here and have the chance to compete for a spot and be a part of this team, ”said Monken.
“It’s great to welcome new freshmen,” said Bishop.
Senior linebacker Arik Smith believes the team are much further along at this point than they were a year ago. The pandemic canceled spring 2020 drills and 2019 returnees had to learn the systems via Zoom video calls with coaches – the fact that defensive coordinator Nate Woody was installing a whole new system only made it more difficult .
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“It’s a huge difference between this year and last year,” said Smith. “This summer, there was more accumulation. We have come here to work during the summer and we feel more comfortable doing it. ”
As one of the four co-captains, Smith said it was his job to update his teammates on the conduct of their business.
“Personally, I want to drive the skill,” he said. “(I want) people who are professionals, able to do this job, able to understand the concepts that coaches give them and implement them in their game. That’s what I try to do with myself. – even and I try to help people learn to become professionals in their specific job, in defense. ”
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On the other side of the ball, Bishop is eager to see his offensive line – which has been essential to one of the best rushing attacks in the country – come together.
“Obviously we are graduating from a few big names,” he said. “It’s important to (to) understand who we are and who we’re going to be in creating this, developing depth and welcoming new guys. They’re all integral to our success.”
The military roster also has 44 sophomores, 31 juniors and 26 seniors, according to the website. Among the crowd is Newburgh Free Academy graduate Tyler Rafferty, a linebacker with the number 39. Five freshmen are among the 11 quarterbacks listed.
Keep it simple
Monken lamented that football “is not designed to be played only with shorts, t-shirts and helmets,” but those are NCAA regulations. Thus, the Black Knights emphasized the fundamentals, techniques, assignments and basic calls in attack and defense. When they weren’t in 11-man units, the post groups would split up and work on things.
“We work defensively on tackles or take out and that sort of thing,” said Monken. “And offensive just the different blocks and we can do all of that against sacks. There is no contact and it starts again after not having been there since April. It’s good. It’s good for us to come back to the group like that.
“There are very few meetings between them. We try to be very, very careful about it. It’s good the first few days just to get back into the swing of things and give freshmen a taste of what college practice is like. ”
The return quarters
The military are heading to preseason camp in about the best physical condition imaginable, with the exception of a few players recovering from summer injuries, none of whom appear to put them in danger of starting the season, said Monken. Starting quarterbacks Jabari Laws and Jemel Jones have returned to the training ground. Laws was injured at the end of the 2019 season and missed the whole of 2020. Jones was injured in the middle of the 2020 season and did not return.
Monken was very happy to have Laws in the lineup.
“Delighted… I love this kid,” he said. “He’s a great leader, a competitor and a very good fundamental football player. It’s fun to watch him throw the ball. It has a very quick release. He has quick feet. He’s a great athlete and I think our guys really trust him and he is loved by his teammates. So I’m sure they’re excited to see you back there too. No one is more excited than him. ”
Monken has often said that preseason camp is his favorite time of the year.
“It gives us the opportunity to build ‘The Brotherhood’ and to bond and really get to know each other in a way that is often difficult during the season,” he said. “During the season, these guys race to get up here (at the football complex). We have meetings. They are all in different meetings. We have elevators, they’re all in different elevators. We’re on the training ground and when you’ve got some competition and you’re trying to price yourself to get better, there’s not much time to chat … and after practice is over some guys go. undergo (rehabilitation) treatments. , some guys go straight to dinner, some have a study room… so we all have different schedules even though we’re on the same team. During preseason camp there are opportunities to slow everything down and really dive into building a new team and building fraternity and that’s what I really like about it. ”
The Army’s season opener is Sept. 4 at Georgia State in Atlanta. The home opener is on September 11 against Western Kentucky.