WEST POINT -- First day of spring practice. Forecast for Tuesday calls for late-day snow showers and temperature in the upper 30s. No bumps and bruises, at least not yet. And Jeff Monken will be looking to do the impossible.
Over 13 practice days, Army will be spread across three different fields, one indoor practice facility and twice at the academy prep school, and the Black Knights’ new head football coach is determined not to miss a moment anywhere. Those new-fangled drones would sure come in handy.
“God gave me two legs and I’m going to use them,” he said.
And while he’s met every player and watched them during workouts, there’s no definitive answers to the many questions every new coach has when he takes over.
“We’ll be starting 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense tomorrow and the next day it might be a different 11 on each side,” Monken said. “We don’t have to set the starting 11s until September 6.”
That’s the day the Black Knights open their season, against Buffalo. Since taking the job Dec. 24 Monken has awaited tomorrow.
“We’ve eagerly anticipated this day for a couple of months,” he said. “Our guys have been working really hard in the offseason. I’m really pleased with their efforts and the strides they’ve made physically to this point. We’re excited and feel like we’re prepared to begin practice. We’ve had a chance to see all these guys on film and see them run around in conditioning workouts, but nothing really to give us an indication of who our players are going to be at each position. We can certainly speculate based on who has played and what we’ve been able to see on film, but I’m really anxious to see these guys in person and watch them in our schemes, see them compete and get a chance to coach them, and get prepared for our season next fall.”
Part of that preparation has included arrival for workouts at 5:30 in the morning. There’s not a lot of downtime for a cadet, so you do what you have to do when you can do it.
“I want to see the guys work hard,” Monken said. “I’d like to see our team display toughness and play together and try as hard as they can in everything they do. We’ll get better if we do those things. We’ll have a chance to compete if we do those things. Beyond that, we want to implement our schemes, learn the terminology and build a foundation for the fall. We’re going to have a chance to practice a lot more in preseason camp and that should give us enough time to be prepared for our first football game. Fundamentally, blocking, tackling, taking care of the ball, playing well in the kicking game, all of those things are things we need to improve on this spring in order for those schemes to come together. “
Monken played both high school and college football and has coached for 25 years – the last four as head coach at Georgia Southern -- but he said there isn’t any first-day-of-practice memory that stands out.
“I think there’s an excitement for the first day of practice every year. Everyone looks forward to it,” he said. “I think these guys are excited to come, and I’m excited to coach them. Every year it’s the hope of what’s to come. We’re certainly excited and hopeful. I’ve got a lot of great memories. I don’t know if I remember the first day of every season, but I remember the first time walking out on the field for the first time at every place I’ve been and this is going to be a special memory for me, as well.”
One thing that’s astounded Monken since taking the job is the global feedback he’s received, and he’s just as likely to hear from someone by way of Kuwait as Kansas.
“There’s a great passion for Army sports and for Army football from here, around the nation and around the globe,” he said. “I get letters from all around the world lending support, and I appreciate every bit of it. Every one of those emails, letters and calls means that people care. I know there’s a great passion for Army football and I’m excited to coach for West Point. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and getting a chance to see what kind of football team we have.”
As Army prepares in the spring and awaits its freshmen recruits in the summer, a most particularly important player’s status remains unknown. Ray Maples was just the third running back in Army history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. But in last season’s third game, against Stanford, Maples suffered a rare tendon avulsion in his right leg, causing him to miss the rest of the season. An avulsion fracture is an injury to the bone in a location where a tendon or ligament attaches to the bone. When an avulsion fracture occurs, the tendon or ligament pulls off a piece of the bone.
He has taken this semester off, and is expected to re-enroll in the fall. But whether or not he will be physically able to play football remains unknown.