Resur­gent Army pro­gram copes with tragedy

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Ni­cole Auer­bach @Ni­coleAuer­bach USA TO­DAY Sports

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.”

DANNY WILD, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Coach Jeff Monken and Army cel­e­brate af­ter win­ning Satur­day. Bran­don Jack­son died in a car ac­ci­dent hours later.

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