Army head coach Jeff Monken spoke to the media on Tuesday, prepping for their road trip to El Paso this weekend. But his program is also dealing with the death of a key defensive player Brandon Jackson.
Here are some of Monken’s quotes from Tuesday.
Monken explains what this week has been like so far, and the strength the Black Knights are displaying through this tough time.
“Obviously we have had a really trying week here at West Point. The entire academy, football program and athletic department is mourning the loss of one of our own. It has been a tough couple of days. Brandon is a young man that is deeply cared for at West Point. He is beloved by his teammates. He is a teammate and brother to these guys and he will be sorely missed. We are so saddened for his family and loved ones at home along with all of his friends.
"When you lose somebody you love, it is tough. This is no exception. Our guys are having a tough time and are reeling right now. I am just so impressed and proud of the strength that our guys have shown and the love that they have for each other and of the brotherhood right now. It becomes very apparent and you find out what that means to a team when you go through a tough time. Certainly this is a difficult time and I have seen everyone band together. It has been really incredible to watch how they have supported each other in the last couple of days.
"We have some things going on internally that are helping us cope with the loss and helping the young men who, after Brandon's family, are our greatest concern.”
“We will continue to do that as we prepare to play the game this Saturday, and we will play. That is a decision that the team was adamant about; they wanted to play. We decided that, as a group, if we were going to play then we were going to do it in the best way possible by preparing.”
"The team practiced Monday. It was important to them to get out there yesterday afternoon. It is important to honor the people that we love and lost. We wanted to do it in a way that Brandon would be proud. I think our guys certainly handled the first opportunity to get back and workout yesterday and I am sure that will continue."
Coach Monken then talks about approaching this week mentally.
"These are great kids, and they are remarkably resilient. A lot of people who don't know West Point and are looking at it from the outside-in think that the young men and women here are robots and all have the same feelings and reactions to things that happen. These are young people. They're all different with their own personalities and their own way of dealing with both things that are reasons to celebrate and reasons of tragedy. We've got to deal with these guys as we would any other college football team.”
"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 the way that they're forged as leaders from the time they step on campus."
He then talked about the experience factor his team has played with so far this year that has led to a 2-0 start.
"I think we have enough guys that have played in the system for the last three years. Though they may not have been starters the entire time, they've grown up in the program and have just gotten better as time has progressed. They've gotten more developed physically and they've gotten better at understanding the schemes and it starts to come together the longer you do it. I'm really proud of our guys and the start that we've had to the season. They've done a terrific job and credit goes to the assistant coaches, those are the guys who get them ready every week. We've continued to believe in what we're doing and we're just doing it a little better."
Looking at UTEP’s offense, Monken is aware of the Miners new offensive schemes, and of course, Aaron Jones
"They do a lot of things on offense. They run a lot of motion and distractions that trouble defenses. They do a good job. It's very interesting to watch them play and see all of the different things that they do. There are some unique challenges to playing UTEP. They have a great running back in Aaron Jones. He's tremendously talented and tough to stop. He had over 100 yards in the first half last week against Texas, and that's pretty impressive against a team that a lot of people recognize as a great program. They've had some different quarterbacks due to some injury issues, but have continued to be able to do a bunch of different things on offense. They can make it a long night for you."
Army’s 2-0 start for the first time in 20-years may mean the Black Knights are turning a corner.
“I'm not sure if it was that we didn't know how to win, we just didn't finish them out last year. It takes time to get yourself to that, to be right there in the ball games, to be competitive. Fortunately, in the two games we played this year we found a way to come out on top. If that means we learned to win then that's what that means. We still have a lot to do to get to the point that we feel we have a really good football team. We have a team that is battling hard and playing hard but there is still a lot of improvements that we need to make as a football team."
Monken explains how he plans to keep emotions in check for his team coming into the game with the mix of emotions going on this week.
"I think right from the get-go and just being out there was therapeutic for our team. I was really proud of the way they handled yesterday's workout. I thought they were focused, and I think they were just glad to be out there together and to be able to feel like they were able to feel like they were doing something together to honor Brandon”.
"We don't want to play the game on Saturday in a way that everybody is going to look at us and say, 'Oh, those poor guys. No wonder they're playing so crappy. Something bad really happened to them.' That's not the way our guys want to represent this program, nor how they want Brandon to be remembered. It's going to take the best we've got to beat UTEP, and I thought our guys went out there yesterday and practiced with really good effort and focus, and hopefully they'll continue to do the same today and as we go through the rest of the week."
Monken says the biggest improvement mark so far this season is the solid turnover margin Army has put together in their first two games
"I hope it's just the collective of our third season making an emphasis on taking care of the ball. We have to continue to do that, and we have gotten some balls back, which has been a big reason we have had success in the first couple of weeks. I've probably said it in here before, the turnover ratio, if you look at the turnover margin, is the biggest factor in teams that win and lose. We know that and we stress that to our guys. Whether it has made a difference or not we are getting the turnovers."