Prediction time: UTEP

Army practiced through an emotional week following the loss of sophomore starting cornerback Brandon Jackson in a car accident Sunday.

Will the Black Knights rally around each other in their first of three straight road games at UTEP Saturday night.

Coach Jeff Monken said throughout the week that he expects his team to respond and play hard like it has in Army’s first two wins this season.

Expect Army to come out with the same if not more intensity against the Miners (1-1).

Captain Jeremy Timpf said Wednesday that the team is on a mission this season and Jackson is a part of mission. The mission is to bring winning football back to West Point.

Timpf and captain Andrew King have led a defense, which has allowed just one touchdown in the second half this season. Story here.

Freshman Elijah Riley or sophomore Michael Reynolds (interception, fumble recovery this season) will start at cornerback opposite sophomore Marcus Hyatt.

UTEP has one of the nation’s best running backs in Aaron Jones. Jones rushed for 114 yards in the first half against No. 11 Texas last week. Army safeties Rhyan England and Xavier Moss will be counted on to help slow down Jones and they must be ready for play-action. Zack Greenlee, a Fresno State transfer, is a capable passer.

Army’s offense has scored eight touchdowns this season. Four of those drives have taken 12 or more plays and 5 minutes and 32 seconds or more off the clock.

Army is a 3.5-point road favorite in the first meeting between the teams.

Sal Interdonato (Times Herald-Record Army football beat writer): Army 35, UTEP 24. Army has won its first two games with solid defense and efficient, turnover-free offense led by sophomore fullback Andy Davidson. Expect more of the same here. Army’s ability to continue drives and  convert on third down could be the difference.

Predictions from around the college football universe
Dave Miller (Campus Insiders): Army 31, UTEP 30. Miller says on, “This Black Knights offensive express is hot and chugging along, and there’s no reason to believe that UTEP has made enough substantial defensive improvements to contain Monken’s offense. This is the first of three straight road tests for Army. The Black Knights will pass the first exam in a game that goes down to the wire.”
Pete Fiutak ( Army 27, UTEP 20
The Power Rank: Army has 81 percent chance of winning
Alex Nicolas (Miner Rush, SB Nation): Army 24, UTEP 22. Nicolas says on, “Both teams will slug it out and play hard, but I just feel Army’s defense, and their ability to limit possessions is the difference.”

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Army Football Podcast No. 2 with Stephen Anderson

Army football beat writer Sal Interdonato and two-year captain Stephen Anderson discuss the passing of sophomore cornerback Brandon Jackson, look back to Army’s win over Rice and preview Saturday’s game at UTEP.

Here’s an excerpt of the podcast:

“You have to remember what (Brandon) Jackson would want and that’s going out and playing and putting it all on the line just like he did. Now, they have an actual 12th man on the field with them every play. He’ll be right there just where he was the past few games. They can find strength in that.” – Stephen Anderson

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Sept. 14 practice blog

Army coach Jeff Monken said Wednesday’s practice was better than Tuesday, where, “there were far too many mistakes.”

“It was good to see the guys be a little more crisp and not have to do plays all over again,” Monken said. “I thought it was better on both sides of the ball.”

Wednesday was Army’s third practice since the passing of sophomore cornerback Brandon Jackson in a car accident Sunday.

Monken on the team getting back to routine of practicing: “I told these guys because you are doing your job well  and you are going out there and enjoying the things that you love to do doesn’t mean you don’t hurt. It’s our obligation and duty to each other that we do everything out here the best that we can do it. I think they’ve handled it well.”

Has Army decided on what they will be wearing Saturday to honor Jackson? “We haven’t settled into that yet. We don’t want to make any promises because when you do things like that sometimes the people you are asking to prepare those uniforms and prepare any changes can’t come through in such a short amount of time. We got some things in mind. Our equipment staff is working on some things. We’ll see. It may be something as the season progresses that we got some things that we do.”


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VIDEO: Captains Andrew King, Jeremy Timpf on Brandon Jackson

Army captains Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf spoke with the media for the first time since the passing of teammate Brandon Jackson in a car accident Sunday.

When asked how he might personally honor Jackson for Saturday’s game at UTEP, King said, “I’m going to play hard for my teammates and continue to fight for this brotherhood and try to leave a legacy that will last for years to come…He was a great player. He’s definitely going to be missed. We are going to continue to fight for each other and play together.”

Timpf said Jackson will be remembered for his personality off the field.

“We mourn Brandon but we also remember how great of a guy he was.” Timpf said. “He was a comedian on the team. It makes the mourning process a lot easier just thinking about all of the good times that we had with Brandon. Great guy off the field, in the classroom he was a great guy, all-around good guy.”

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Remember Brandon Jackson: Tom Pugh

Tom Pugh left Army’s locker room with one request for Brandon Jackson before the team’s spring game in April.

Pugh asked his former Holy Cross (N.Y.) High School star to intercept a pass during the game.

Jackson smiled and replied, “Coach, this is Army. They don’t throw the football.”

Pugh laughed with Jackson and then, took his seat in the stands of Michie Stadium.

In the final seconds of the first quarter, Jackson leapt in front of 6-foot-4 receiver Edgar Poe, picking off a pass.

“He pointed up to the stands when he got to the sidelines,” Pugh said.

Pugh, who retired from coaching in 2015, was leaving Sunday’s  Holy Cross-St. Francis Prep football game when he received a call from Army secondary coach John Loose. Loose, Jackson’s recruiting coach at Army, informed Pugh that Jackson had passed away in a car accident early Sunday morning.

“Brandon was going to be there (at the Holy Cross-St. Francis game),” Jackson said. “That’s why he was coming down.”

Services for Jackson, a sophomore cadet and football player, will be held Monday in New York near his home in Queens.

“He was a special young man,” Pugh said. “Academically solid. His smile could light up a room. He was just always happy…He played a whole year at the (Army) prep school there. A lot of the guys do that and don’t end up getting in. He did everything he had to do to get in and started almost every game for two years. He just did everything right. He’s very bright. His mother is really a wonderful woman, good family.”

Pugh said Jackson had the knack for making the big play in high school, especially in rivalry games against St. Francis.

“His junior year, he scored two touchdowns (against St. Francis) and we won and his senior year, he scored two touchdowns and we won,” Pugh said. “He turned the games around with his interceptions. He doesn’t just score. He had interceptions and punt returns. He was an explosive player in high school.”

Pugh said the Holy Cross football team will attend Jackson’s viewing Monday.

“He’s part of our structure,” Pugh said. “He was one of our stars.”


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Quick thoughts: Rice

Andy Davidson (five touchdowns) and Darnell Woolfolk (first career touchdown vs. Rice) have already matched the touchdown production of Army’s 2015 fullbacks in just two games.

Aaron Kemper, Drue Harris and Matt Giachinta combined for six touchdowns in 2015.

Someone in the press box Saturday said Davidson reminded them of Charlie Jarvis, who played at Army from 1966-68. In more recent memory, Davidson reminds me of Jared Hassin, who rushed for 1,012 in his first season at fullback in 2010. Saw Davidson working extra with fullbacks coach Mike Viti after practice.

How many Division I-A coaches go for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 25 with 5:32 left in the first quarter? Jeff Monken rolled the dice in a 7-7 game. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw ran behind center Bryce Holland and right guard Mike Houghton for three yards and a first down. Army would eventually score a touchdown on that drive.

Army’s triple-option production was spread out between the quarterback, fullback and slotback. Davidson, Woolfolk and PaulAndrew Rhoden combined for 133 yards. Bradshaw and Chris Carter gained 101 yards. Slotbacks Joe Walker, Elijah St. Hilaire, Jordan Asberry and Tyler Campbell had 114 yards total.

Yes, No. 46 on Army’s offense was junior tackle Brett Toth in the first half. Army used its share of six- offensive-linemen sets with sophomore Rick Kurz at right tackle. Toth, who played all 72 snaps at right tackle in Army’s opener against Temple, returned to his No. 78 in the second half.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato

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Coach Monken press conference: UTEP

Army coach Jeff Monken met the media for the first time since the tragic loss of sophomore cornerback Brandon Jackson, who passed away in a car accident Sunday.

Here are some excerpts from Monken’s press conference:

Monken’s opening statement: “Obviously, we’ve had a very trying week here at West Point. The entire academy and certainly our football program and athletic department is mourning the loss of one of our own. It’s been a tough couple of days. Brandon is a young man that was deeply cared for by the people here at West Point, beloved by his teammates, a friend, a brother to these guys and he will be sorely missed. We are just so saddened for his family, for his loved ones at home and his friends.

When you lose somebody that you love, it’s tough. This is no exception. Our guys are having a tough time. They are reeling right now. I’m just so impressed and so proud of our guys for the strength that they have within this brotherhood and the love they have for each other. That becomes very apparent and you really find out what that means to a team when you go through a difficult time and certainly, this is one of those difficult times. I’ve seen these guys just band together and it’s been really incredible to watch how they supported each other in the last couple of days.”

On how the players are handling the tragedy: “They are struggling and they are going to hurt. But West Point does have a way of preparing all of its people to be able to persevere through tough times. I have no doubt that this team will persevere and prevail through this adversity and I think a lot of that is because of the way they are forged as leaders from the time they step on campus.”

On if he expects to team to play harder for Jackson against UTEP Saturday: “We should always play for this brotherhood and each other. We don’t need a cause to now go play hard and I talked to our team about that. It’s a lot of pressure to put a team under and say, ‘You got to go win,’ for this cause or you got to go win for this person or for this reason. We got reason enough. I hope our guys were trying to win for Brandon on Saturday (against Rice) and I hope they were trying to win last Friday night (against Temple) for Brandon. He’s part of the brotherhood and he will forever be part of the brotherhood. We are going to play for this brotherhood, which is what we play for all of the time.”

On how the team can honor Jackson Saturday: “I hope the way we honor him the most is by the way that we play and the way we conduct ourselves in everything that we do. When you are part of an organization that represent a much larger group of people, which we are fortunate to do here, everything that we do is a reflection on the group whether it be our professional conduct in the Corps, academics, what we do on the field and Brandon did all of those things really well. He was a great cadet. He was a good student. He was a good football player and he represented this program in a way that I want all of our guys to represent this program. He represented this academy well and he’s a guy that we can be very proud of. By doing those things in a way that would make Brandon proud, is a way we can honor him. I’m certain there will be other things that we do, small things that we do that are either reminders to our guys that are in the program or publicly that he’s a part of our brotherhood.”

On if the football can be used as a healing tool: “When there’s tragedy or things don’t go your way or tough times come, where do we find peace and joy, it’s with those that we love. It’s within that organization. If something bad happens in a family to be able to do something fun, something you enjoy doing together, a family event where everybody is involved, that makes the hurt go away. That makes what you are going through seem a little farther away for you. It allows them to experience joy and have some fun.

“I think when human beings experience something like this we’re afraid to feel joy or any kind. We’re afraid to celebrate anything. We want to walk around in hurt and we afraid people are going to see us smiling or having fun or enjoying something and they are going to say that you forgot or you don’t care or it doesn’t matter to you and that’s not true. We were engineered to experience all of life’s emotions and playing football and getting back to being on the field allows us to be able to experience those emotions and we should. We should live.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t love Brandon. We are never going to forget him. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. That’s a way of showing that we care just that much more. We are going to honor him by living our life the best we can and doing it in a way that he would be proud because he would want us to do that. It’s healing in that we get a chance to do something together with the people that we love the most.”

Press conference video clips are on Periscope @salinterdonato

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Remembering Brandon Jackson: Orlando Mitjans

Orlando Mitjans brought up Brandon Jackson’s name just last week when meeting with his cornerbacks at The Citadel.

Mitjans spoke of Jackson’s determination and will to be a starting cornerback in his freshman season at Army last week.

“He didn’t he didn’t care that he was a freshman,” Mitjans, Army’s cornerback coach in 2015, told his Citadel players. “He was going to try and outwork everybody else so he could be a starter and sure enough he became the starter.”

Mitjans was devastated by Jackson’s passing in a car accident early Sunday morning. Army coach Jeff Monken called  Mitjans with the numbing news Sunday.

“He (Monken) said, ‘Orlando, I know you had a great relationship with Brandon and I felt like you would want to know this,’” Mitjans said. “I appreciated him calling me. He (Jackson) meant a lot to me and to Claire (Mitjans’ wife). I cried last night and I’m going to cry again because I loved that young man.

“He was a special young man who had the world right at his hands. He was going to be a special, special player. He had that ability, that talent. He would have been a special player there at Army.”

Mitjans, who is from the Bronx, and Jackson, a Queens native,  immediately bonded through their New York City ties. The coach got to know Jackson and his mother, Morna Davis, on Saturdays after home games where Mitjans would host dinner.

“She (Davis) put him through school,” Mitjans said. “For a single woman to bring up a young man in this day and age is amazing. She did a great job with him just the way he presented himself and the way he carried himself.”

Mitjans helped recruit Jackson to West Point. He reached out to Davis during the recruiting process.

“I’m hurting for Brandon and his family,” Mitjans said. “I’m also hurting for those other (cornerbacks) too. Stevie Johnson, Mike Reynolds and Marcus Hyatt, guys that know him and know him well. All three of them (Jackson, Reynolds and Hyatt) kind of grew up together.

“They’ve known each other since day one. They all came in as freshmen together. They learned together…These are the guys that I am worried about and hopefully they can get through this and the situation can make them stronger.”

Mitjans believes Army will get through the difficult time because of the brotherhood Monken has built at West Point.

“Coach Monken does a great job in instilling the brotherhood into everybody,” Mitjans said. “Even though I’m not there anywhere, I’m still part of their family. I’m still in touch with those coaches. I still talk to Monk. I still talk to the players. They reach out to me. I reach out to them.

“The brotherhood is always going to be there and that’s something Monk has fathered everywhere that he’s been…They have a great bunch of coaches there. They believe in the brotherhood and they will keep those young men together and they will get through it.”

Citadel’s football team had off Monday. Mitjans was sitting in his office when cornerbacks and safeties starting filing in. They had heard the news of Jackson’s passing.

“They came by my office to say they are sorry and to make sure I was OK,” Mitjans said. “It made me cry again. Just to have them come by and spend a couple of moments with me.”

Mitjans will have more stories about Jackson to tell his players in the future. Jackson’s memory will live on through his former coach.

“He was a young man that wanted to be great and it bothered him when he wasn’t able to have success either in the classroom or on the football field or in life,” Mitjans said. “He wanted to be successful in anything that he tried to do.”


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COLUMN: Playing for B-Jack

Brandon Jackson deflected any compliments.

Jackson credited Army coordinator Jay Bateman for making a good call. The cornerback intercepted a pass in his first spring game in April, building off an impressive freshman season, where he started nine games.

When asked he was asked if there was any reward for the interception, Jackson said, “Just a smile during an interview. That’s about it.”

Current and former players and coaches continued to remember Jackson’s smile Monday in mourning the passing of Army’s sophomore cornerback, who died at the age of 20 in a car crash early Sunday morning in Croton.

Jackson had a quiet confidence and was able to connect with Army’s returning players right from the start during his freshman season.

“He was so much more than a football player,” said Mike McFadden, a senior cornerback on Army’s 2015 team. “He got really close with a lot of guys in the corners room. You don’t see that a whole lot from freshmen, the ability to right off the bat building friendship and bonds with upperclassmen. He was a special guy. He was so well-liked by the  guys that they really opened him in with open arms and really mentored him.”

Army players took to social media over the past two days, remembering their teammate. Some dedicated this season to Jackson. This season is about more than winning football games. It’s about playing for  B-Jack.

My column:

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KnightCap: Rice

First 2-0 start since 1996. Check.

First winning streak since 2010. Check.

Another big game from sophomore fullback Andy Davidson. Check.

Quick recap of Army’s 31-14 win over Rice.

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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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