Resurgent Army program copes with tragedy
WEST POINT, N.Y. For Army football coach Jeff Monken, using the past tense is weird — or was weird. After all, he was talking about someone he had coached the last two years, someone who had just recorded two solo tackles in a game Saturday.
Despite how strange it sounded and the few times he accidentally slipped into the present tense during his normal news conference Tuesday afternoon, Monken had to acknowledge his cornerback was no longer there.
Sunday morning, the Army football team, fresh off its second consecutive win and first 2-0 start in two decades, had suffered an immeasurable loss, one that hurts more than the result on any scoreboard. Cadet Brandon Jack- son, a 20-year-old sophomore from Queens in New York, died in a car crash hours after helping the Black Knights defeat Rice.
Word spread quickly through the program Sunday, with Monken and his staff finding out, waiting until Jackson’s family had been personally notified and then telling the rest of the team the news together so they could be there to comfort one another. And start trying to process unfathomable news, the lowest of lows after a high-water mark for the program under Monken, the third-year coach.
“Probably a lot of people who don’t know West Point looking from the outside in maybe think that the young men and women here are like robots,” Monken said. They’re not. “They’re struggling,” he added, and no players were made available to the media alongside him Tuesday. “They’re going to hurt. But West Point does have a way of preparing all of its people to be able to persevere through tough times.”
Army’s leadership council met Monday and decided it would help the team to practice. Mon- ken described it as therapeutic, being back on the practice field, preparing for a big game Saturday at Texas-El Paso, a game the team decided it would play despite the tragedy. Army hopes to keep playing the way it has played during its best start since 1996.
But before, during and after all that football comes to pass, the program will figure out ways to honor Jackson’s memory.
“I hope the way we honor him most is how we play and how we conduct ourselves in everything we do,” Monken said. “When you’re a part of an organization that represents a much larger group of people — which we’re fortunate enough to do here — everything we do is a reflection on the group. Whether it be our professional conduct or on the court or field or in academics, Brandon did all of those things really well. He was a great Cadet, a good student, a good football player. He represented this football program in a way I want all our guys to represent this program.
“By doing all those things in a way that would make Brandon proud, it’s a way we can honor him.”
Coach Jeff Monken and Army celebrate after winning Saturday. Brandon Jackson died in a car accident hours later.