The most improved players of the spring were…

Chandler Ramirez began his college football as an outside linebacker and a special teams player as a freshman.

Coaches asked Ramirez to gain weight in a move to defensive end his sophomore season. The move didn’t work out as Ramirez couldn’t gain the weight required, prompting a return to outside linebacker this spring.

Maybe that was the right position and role for Ramirez after all. When asked which players improved the most this spring, Army coach Jeff Monken brought Ramirez’s name up.

“Probably the most pleasant surprise over (on defense) is Chandler Ramirez,” Monken said. “He didn’t play very much as a freshman. We tried to bulk him up last year and he couldn’t carry the weight that it took to play that position. He slimmed back down and had a really good spring.”

Ramirez will add depth behind senior Alex Aukerman this fall. Who else impressed Monken this spring? Here’s some players, who should the most improvement, according to Monken:

Fullbacks Calen Holt and freshman Connor Slomka: Holt, a sophomore, and Slomka, a freshman, took advantage of addition reps with Andy Davidson and Darnell Woolfolk, the team’s top two fullbacks, banged up and sophomore Cole Macek not participating in spring practice due to academics. Holt’s move from linebacker was a success. Monken said, “They (Holt and Slomka) were just a 1-2 punch…It was fun to watch those guys play. They were playing hard and really competing.”

Freshman defensive end Amadeo West: West has worked himself into the mix as a potential starter by getting bigger and stronger in the offseason. Monken said, “He went from being a freshman and he has really physically developed over the last three months coming out of the season and I’m really impressed with him.”

Freshman linebacker Cole Christiansen: Christiansen’s role may expand from his plebe year where he played in passing packages later in the season. Christiansen shined all spring and had two sacks in the Black & Gold game.

Sophomore right tackle Austin Schuffert: Schuffert solidified his place on the depth as Brett Toth’s primary backup. Monken said Schuffert, “really, really improved over the course of the spring. He’s not a starter yet and he’s not to the point where he can beat out those guys with all that experience but he’s had a nice spring.”

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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Recruiting: Louisiana CB Fleming second 2018 commit

Khalil Fleming was paid a visit by Army assistant coach Mike Viti Wednesday at his Louisiana home.

Viti, a 2008 West Point and the team’s fullbacks coach, didn’t start conversation with football.

“He talked more about the school than football to be honest and that caught me attention,” said Fleming, a 5-foot-11, 163-pound cornerback from Northshore High.

Before Viti could leave, Fleming gave him his verbal commitment to Army. Fleming is the Black Knights’ second commit of the 2018 class.

“When they first offered me (back in March), I told my mom and everyone and they were excited,” Fleming said. “I talked with my family and friends and all they had was positive things to say about West Point. Every day, it grew on me that no other school could beat what Army had to offer me…I would be set for life after graduating.”

Army is Fleming’s only Division I-A offer. Cornell also offered Fleming. Fleming made 35 tackles and had nine passes defenses as a junior. He said Army is also recruiting him as a kick return. Fleming said he averaged close to 50 yards per kick return his junior season.

Fleming plans on visiting West Point for the first time this summer. It will be his first trip to the state of New York.

“I’ve always wanted to go to New York and this is a great chance to go live four years of my life there,” Fleming said.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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Calen Holt on requesting position change and move to fullback

Calen Holt stood just a few inches from fullback Mike Viti during the Army’s Black & Gold spring game.

Holt couldn’t wait to hear his name called again. The sophomore logged close to 20 carries at his new position Saturday.

During the offseason, Holt, a linebacker his first two seasons at West Point, met with Army coach Jeff Monken and requested a change to offense. Holt, a special teams standout, played in some defensive passing packages last year.

“I felt like I needed a new scene for myself and just a fresh start,” said Holt, who had four tackles in Army’s Heart of Dallas Bowl win over North Texas in December. “I thought my skills would be able to fit well on the other side of the ball. It was really open to whatever position it was. I really liked when coach moved me to fullback.”

Growing up in Hawaii, Holt was primarily a defensive player. He played some wide receiver. But, Holt never carried the ball as running back/fullback until this spring. Couldn’t tell with the way that Holt has excelled this spring. Holt has learned to take the first hit, keep moving the pile and gain yards after contact.

“Every day, I want to learn more,” Holt said. “Coach Viti is a really good inspiration. He’s a really good coach helping us out…Coach (Viti) always has us on the same level. We all have our own things to work on.”

Holt took advantage additional snaps while Andy Davidson and Darnell Woolfolk, Army’s top two fullbacks, were banged up this spring. Monken cited Holt and freshman fullback Connor Slomka on a list of players that have made the most improvement this spring.

“I was really impressed with him (Holt) and Slomka,” Monken said. “They were just a 1-2 punch with Andy a little banged up and Woolfolk out. It was fun to watch those guys play. They were playing hard and really competing.”

Holt admitted he felt a little out of breath during the scrimmage. He went to sidelines, favoring his right leg after one run. Trainers examined Holt and cleared his return.

“There was a second wind at the end of a drive,” Holt said. “You are like, ‘Alright, two more yards and a first down.’ It was just refreshing…It’s a new experience for me and I’m really enjoying it for as long as I can.”

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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Recruiting: Visit impresses Tennessee LB Ernst

Tennessee linebacker Morgan Ernst called his first visit to West Point over the weekend, “an absolutely, amazing experience.”

Ernst was one of many prospects that attended Junior Day and the Black & Gold Game Saturday.

“I never really quite experienced anything like it,” said Ernst, who is 6-foot and 195 pounds. “The campus was beautiful. The facilities were beautiful. It was great football. It was just amazing all around.”

Army is recruiting Ernst as a hybrid linebacker/safety. Ernst starred at Webb High in Nashville his junior season, making 156 tackles including 14 for a loss, six fumble recoveries while forcing four fumbles and adding two sacks. He also rushed for 1,026 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The football experience impressed Ernst but the academics of West Point is also an attraction.

“It’s the No. 1 public school in the country,” Ernst said. “You start out with a job and you are already on your way to doing great things immediately after college. There’s not much hassle into getting started from there. You are set for life for sure.”

Army is Ernst’s lone offer. He said he’s received interest from Wake Forest, Furman and Ivy League schools including Princeton, Columbia, Brown and Penn. Ernst visited Navy in early March.

“It was different for sure,” Ernst said of his Navy trip. “It wasn’t on the river. Honestly, I think Army was a prettier campus than Navy was.”

Ernst, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds, said he connected with Army’s coaching staff.

“I thought they all seemed great to me,” Ernst said. “They were all very nice and very inviting. It was just a great experience. I will get back up there, hopefully sometime this summer.”

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.


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Happy Birthday Brandon Jackson

One by one, Army football players stopped to give Morna Davis a hug as they jogged off at halftime of the Black & Gold spring game Saturday.

Later that afternoon, the New York Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Department played a tribute game in honor of Brandon Jackson, Davis’ son, at Michie Stadium.

Jackson and Davis remain very much a part of Army’s football team. Jackson’s locker is still set up with his uniform and practice gear.

Brandon Jackson would have been 21 today. Jackson, a two-year starting cornerback, was killed in a single-car accident on Sept. 11, 2016.

Jackson was in the thoughts of Army football players and coaches as many posted birthday wishes and memories of their teammate and brother on social media

Here are some of the posts:

“Man I miss you Jack. Happy birthday. I know you turnin up on this beautiful Monday! Nothing will never be the same without you, but I will continue to hold my head high and go hard for you #rememberjack #28 #doitforjack” – quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw

“Happy 21st Birthday to my boy. We haven’t forgot about you man. We miss you like crazy. But as always we’ll hold it down for you. Rest easy and continue to watch over us. #Forever28.” – wide receiver Jeff Ejekam

“This has been a tough day of dealing with life lost too young. Miss you Bjack. Love you & happy birthday #28!” – defensive line coach Chad Wilt

“Happy Birthday B-Jack. I still remember what you told me Temple Game, I think they are finally going to let it happen. We miss you G.” – quarterback Kelvin Hopkins

“On this day, a King was born. God blessed us with an amazing brother and teammate. Happy Birthday Brotha Jack. I love you.” running back Kell Walker

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Bradshaw, Voit named 2017 captains

Army’s two captains for the 2017 season shouldn’t surprise anyone, coach Jeff Monken said following the Black & Gold Game.

Monken didn’t reveal the players’ names that were selected by a team vote. But, the Times Herald-Record has confirmed junior Ahmad Bradshaw and junior defensive end John Voit are the captains.

Voit led the team onto the field, carrying the American flag Saturday for the spring game. Bradshaw carried the Black Flag banner.

Bradshaw, a two-year starting quarteback,  engineered game-winning drives against Navy and North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to end the 2016 season.

Voit has started 25 straight games at defensive end. He’s been a member of the team’s Leadership Council since his freshman season.


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Quick thoughts: 2017 Black & Gold Game blog

Army’s Black & Gold Game was an offensive struggle for more than three quarters.

Ten points were on the board before Christian Poe scored a touchdown on a 40-yard reverse with 3:03 left in the game. Kell Walker broke off a 61-yard touchdown run 44 seconds later to cap the scoring.

Sloppy game by both offenses with too many false start and holding penalties.

The Gold team was stopped twice inside the 5-yard line.

On the bright side, the offense as a whole turned the ball over just once.

Sophomore fullback Calen Holt was a workhorse, carrying the ball close to 20 times for the Gold team.

Sophomore Chris Carter threw the ball the best among the three quarterbacks that played. Carter, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kelvin Hopkins had little time to pass on the few occasions Army put the ball in the air.

Freshman linebacker Cole Christiansen recorded two sacks. Sophomore linebacker James Nachtigal, junior defensive end Matt Sannella and freshman cornerback Malik Hancock each had one sack. Hancock started out the game as a slotback but was forced to also play cornerback when Jalen Sharp left with an injury.

On the injury front, Army coach Jeff Monken breathed a sigh of relief when he got back the report on two-year starting guard Mike Houghton. Houghton was carted off the field and going down on the game’s ninth play. A severe injury was feared. Monken said Houghton twisted his ankle and should be fine.

Touched on the punting in my notebook but the struggles of 2016 season haven’t been solved this spring. Army’s first punt of the game was blocked. Hang time was not a friend to Army’s punters. Some punts struggled to get higher than a linemen’s shoulders. Don’t know if they were instructed, but some punts were kicked off to the side with the hopes of getting a favorable roll. The best punt of the game was J.D. Mote’s 55-yard boot that was downed inside the 5-yard line.

Center Bryce Holland, fullback Darnell Woolfolk, slotbacks Jordan Asberry and Malik McGue and linebacker Bayle Wolf were among the key Black Knights that didn’t play in the game. Defensive end John Voit and safety Rhyan England saw limited action.

Sophomore Tyler Campbell watched the game from the stands. Campbell, a starting slotback in 2016, left the team and didn’t participate in spring practice. When asked if there’s a chance that Campbell returns to the team, coach Jeff Monken said, “the players say yes.”  Stay tuned.

VIDEO: Junior wide receiver Jeff Ejekam’s highlight-reel catch and run that would make SportsCenter’s Top 10 in the regular season. Ejekam faked right, cut left, leaving a defensive back, who lost his footing on the turf.

VIDEO: Wide receiver Jeff Ejekam on 38-yard touchdown catch

VIDEO: Coach Jeff Monken comments on Black & Gold game

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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Recruiting: Black-Gold Game/Junior Day visitors (Updated)

Clear Falls (Texas) safety Taylor Vessel took in Army’s practice Friday.

Vessel watched his future teammates play in the Black & Gold spring game Saturday with many members of his 2017 Army recruiting class.

The following 2017 commits were in attendance Saturday:

Highland Park (Texas) defensive end/linebacker Luke Blanton
Frisco (Texas) safety Elijah Boyd
St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) defensive back Cameron Clarke
Southern Alamance (N.C.) defensive lineman Alex Crawford
New Trier (Ill.) quarterback Clay Czyzynski
Westfield (Va.) wide receiver Sean Eckert
Prairie Ridge (Ill.) TE Austin Ferbet
Grafton (Va.) linebacker Ray Gonzalez
St. Patrick (Chicago, Ill.) wide receiver Jon Hamilton
Middle Creek (N.C.) safety Daniel Jackson
Hooks (Texas) quarterback Jordan Johnson
Cardinal Gibbons (Fla.) long snapper Paul Lawless
Wise (Md.) quarterback Jabari Laws
Nease (Fla.) punter Michael Leisle
American Heritage (Fla.) kicker Billy Mitchell
Lamar (Texas) wide receiver Jalen Moy
St. Thomas Aquinas (Ohio) long snapper Kyle O’Connor
Neuqua Valley (Ill.) linebacker Jon Rhattigan
Vance (N.C.) wide receiver Mike Roberts
Seminole (Fla.) linebacker Ben Roth
Penn-Trafford (Pa.) center Will Schumacher
Middle Creek (N.C.) quarterback Dominique Shoffner
Astronaut (Fla.) offensive lineman Kenny Willoughby

The following high school juniors were in attendance:

Malvern Prep (Pa.) running back O’Shaan Allison
Anthony Wayne (Ohio) lineman Nathan Barney
Bishop Kenny (Fla.) kicker Matthew Brust
St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia) defensive tackle Ryan Bryce
Troy (N.Y.) safety Joe Casale
Western Branch (Va.) lineman Austin Cullifer
Webb (Tenn.) linebacker Morgan Ernst
Lancaster (Ohio) running back-linebacker Shea Goss
Vianney (Mo.) quarterback Tione Harris
Troy (N.Y) safety Dev Holmes
Damascus (Md.) lineman Michael Jurgens
Calallen (Texas) defensive lineman Kenese Leomiti
Regents (Texas) defensive end Cal Long
South Point (N.C.) linebacker Matt Robinson
Greenville (Ohio) offensive lineman Braden Russell
St. Frances Academy (Md.) running back Terrell Smith
Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.) offensive lineman Reis Spicer
Easton (Pa.) lineman Trevor Storm
Exeter (Pa.) quarterback Brandon Unterkoefler
Liberty (Pa.) linebacker Jaden Vazquez
Erasmus (N.Y.) slotback Jalen Walters
Christian Brothers Collegiate (Mo.) running back Tyler Walton
LaSalle College (Pa.) defensive lineman Garrett Zobel

Commits/recruits, if you have any photos from the weekend that you would like me to post on my Twitter account, please direct message the pics @salinterdonato

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April 14 practice blog

Spring practice has flown by for linebacker James Nachtigal.

Nachitgal switched from the outside to the inside Will linebacker position, where Jeremy Timpf started the last three seasons, this spring.

Nachtigal said the start of spring was, “a little tough at first, because they throw everything at you kind of fast.”

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said the sophomore of his new position after Army’s 14th spring practice and last before the Black & Gold Game Saturday. “You got to think a little more than you do normally.”

“It’s condensed (in the spring) so you are learning a lot more plays than you normally would. It’s more of a hit-the-ground-running type of thing.”

Nachtigal played outside linebacker his senior season at Fort Atkinson (Wisc.) High in 2013. He was an inside linebacker at Army Prep in 2014 and went back to the outside for his freshman and sophomore seasons at West Point. Nachtigal recorded 3.5 sacks, primarily as a situational rusher in 2016.

“It helped playing outside backer first just because I got to know the plays and how everything works conceptually,” Nachitgal said. “Now that I have the concepts down, it’s easier to learn the details.”

Nachtigal’s attention to detail will be tested Saturday in the spring game.

“It’s another day to get better,” Nachtigal said. “It’s another opportunity. It will be a fun day, hopefully I’ll make some plays and do some big things.”

Position change: Army coach Jeff Monken said freshman Jaylon McClinton is back to playing safety. McClinton, a nickelback and safety early in 2016, was moved to cornerback after starter Marcus Hyatt suffered a season-ending knee injury in the eighth game. He started the final five games at cornerback. “We just think athletically he’s a better fit there (at safety),” Monken said.

In attendance: Many of Army’s honorary captains for Saturday’s spring game took in Friday’s practice. The eight captains are Adrian Calame, Steve Chaloult, Rob Dickerson, Mike Gann, Hise Gibson, Rob Healy, Frank Scappaticci and Don Smith. Healy and Smith were members of Army’s 1985 Peach Bowl champion team. Healy, a quarterback was named the bowl’s most valuable player. Smith was an all-American guard.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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Recruiting: Kater first commit of 2018 class

Tim Kater confirmed the inevitable on his unofficial visit to Army Wednesday.

West Point has always been Kater’s top college choice since he dropped Kelvin White, his brother, off at the academy in 2011.

“I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” said Kater, a 6-f0ot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman from Steelton-Highspire (Pa.) High.

Kater made it official on his visit, becoming the Army’s first commit of the 2018 class.

Sherian Hockenbraugh-Booher’s wish was for Kater, her grandson, to follow the path of his big brother. White, recruited as a quarterback, was a two-year starter at tight end and a 2016 West Point graduate. Hockenbraugh-Booher passed away in February 2015 after courageously battling pancreatic cancer for two years.

“When she passed, my brother said, ‘Whatever you do, make sure you do it for yourself and her,’” Kater said.

Kater attended Army games watching his brother play and was at the 2016 Army-Navy game where the Black Knights broke a 14-game losing streak to the Midshipmen. White was a graduate assistant on Army’s 2016 staff.

Kater was interested in Rutgers, Fordham, Howard and Lafayette. Howard offered Kater. But, West Point was the place that Kater was meant to be.

“Absolutely,” Kater said. “No doubt and no questions.”

Kater finished a direct-message chat with, “Go Army, Beat Navy.”

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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    Award-winning writer Sal Interdonato has been on the Army football beat since 2007. He'll take you inside the huddle and into the lives of the Black Knights. Read Full
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