Af­ter 4 whirl­wind years, Army LB Brin­son ready for his next mis­sion

The Olympian - - Sports - BY JOE DRAPE

Nearly four years later, Ken­neth Brin­son is still awed with the mem­ory of his first mo­ments at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy. He was herded into Eisen­hower Hall along with the rest of the soon-to-be-plebes. He was wel­comed briefly by amem­ber ofWest Point’s mil­i­tary com­mand and told of his mis­sion.

Then, an up­per-class cadet stepped for­ward. “You have 90 sec­onds to say good­bye,” he di­rected.

By the time Brin­son scram­bled to give his mother, Lu­cre­tia, a farewell hug, he was four min­utes into 47 months of be­com­ing – hope­fully – a se­cond lieu­tenant in the U.S. Army. By the end of that June day, Brin­son had a buzz cut and a rhythm for pre­ci­sion march­ing.

“They call it in­cul­cat­ing you with­West Point val­ues,” he said of those first hours at the academy, “and it was like – Bam! – you start right now.”

By the end of the sum­mer, Brin­son knew how to han­dle a weapon, the im­por­tance of the chain of com­mand and, most im­por­tant, that he was where he was sup­posed to be. Some class­mates fell out; oth­ers were run down phys­i­cally and drown­ing in their aca­demics.

Not Brin­son. By the end of his first se­mes­ter, he was at the top of his class. He was even hope­ful about the prospects for Army foot­ball. He and his team­mates fin­ished 2-10 that first sea­son and lost to archri­val Navy for the 14th con­sec­u­tive year, but Brin­son saw bet­ter days ahead.

“We were a young team and I knew how hard we were work­ing,” said Brin­son, now a 6-foot-2, 245pound se­nior line­backer pre­par­ing for Satur­day, which will be his fourth Army-Navy game. “We were putting in the ex­tra time and we liked each other. I thought we were go­ing to be very good.”

Brin­son was right. He and a se­nior-laden team have re­versed two decades of frus­tra­tion to help re­turn a proud Black Knights pro­gram to the na­tional col­lege foot­ball con­ver­sa­tion. Army heads into its 119th meet­ing with Navy with a record of 9-2, and a chance to beat the Mid­ship­men for a third year in a row.

The Black Knights ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to the Armed Forces Bowl to play Hous­ton (8-3). Even bet­ter, Army has re­turned to the na­tional rank­ings for the first time since 1996: they are No. 22 in The As­so­ci­ated Press poll and No. 25 in the USA To­day coaches poll.

For the past four years, Brin­son has been near the mid­dle of it all as a leader on a de­fense that ranks 11th na­tion­ally and is the pri­mary ben­e­fi­ciary of Army’s ground-chew­ing, clock­eat­ing of­fense. Brin­son’s most im­pres­sive statis­tics may have come off the field: He ex­cels in the class­room – he has main­tained a 3.96 GPA in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing and hopes to at­tend med­i­cal school – and even in his other sport. (He has only two foot­ball games re­main­ing in his Army ca­reer, but his track and field days will con­tinue in the spring; Brin­son is a thrower: shot put, dis­cus and ham­mer.)

“He is dif­fer­ent from any­one I’ve ever had,” Army coach Jef­fMonken said. “He ex­cels at a high level at ev­ery­thing he does, not only be­cause he is tal­ented and re­ally bright, but he stays fo­cused on what is in front of him.”

Monken saw the same things Brin­son did through­out that 2-10 fin­ish in 2015: a group of fresh­men who bought into the se­cond-year coach’s mantra that “win­ning is hard,” but if you put the ex­tra time in on the lit­tle things – film, fun­da­men­tals, fo­cus – it gets eas­ier. De­spite start­ing 21 fresh­men, seven of Army’s 10 losses that sea­son were by seven points or fewer. Two came on last-se­cond field goals.

The next year, Army went 8-5 and ended a 14game los­ing streak against Navy with a 21-17 vic­tory that Brin­son and Monken say was noth­ing less than cathar­tic.

“In­de­scrib­able,” Brin­son said of “singing se­cond,” the priv­i­lege awarded the game’s vic­tors to sing their alma mater along with the Corps of Cadets and Army of­fi­cers and troops at the game.

“There was so much talk about the streak,” Monken said. “It was hard not to feel the weight of that on our shoul­ders. The team felt such a re­spon­si­bil­ity to put an end to it.”

Last year, Army dis­patched Navy 14-13 and then won a shootout with San Diego State 42-35 in the Armed Forces Bowl to fin­ish 10-3. Nei­ther Brin­son nor Monken are look­ing past a Navy team in a ri­valry that mem­bers of each mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tion say tran­scends records or bowl in­vi­ta­tions.

“One game changes ev­ery­thing,” said Navy coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo, whose Mid­ship­men are 3-9. “We have am­ne­sia when it comes to what’s hap­pened in the past.”

But this Army team did take Ok­la­homa, a col­lege foot­ball play­off team, to over­time in Nor­man, Okla., this sea­son be­fore los­ing 28-21.

A win over Navy and Hous­ton would give Army 11 vic­to­ries for the first time in its his­tory.

“I’d like the se­niors to have that legacy to leave for the guys fol­low­ing them, and to have the chance to be able to say they went 3-1 in this se­ries,” Monken said.

And Brin­son? He wants to win, too, but lately he has found him­self ap­pre­ci­at­ing the peo­ple who have helped him suc­ceed.

He will have longer than 90 sec­onds to say good­bye. One mis­sion is near­ing an end, but an­other awaits.

“My sup­port sys­tem here has been great – in the corps, the class­room and my coaches and team­mates,” Brin­son said. “I’ve been try­ing to tell all those peo­ple that. There’s amil­lion things I’m go­ing to miss about it, but it is time to move on. It’s that time.”

HANS PENNINK AP file

Army line­backer Ken­neth Brin­son (56) pres­sures Duke quar­ter­back Daniel Jones last sea­son in West Point, N.Y.

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