PHOTO: Army fullback Jakobi Buchanan celebrates with teammates after one of his 12 touchdowns.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
A few years ago, one of Army’s star players told me he waivered on “Affirmation Day.” The clock ticked down to the formal ceremony. Finally, his roommate told him to get ready. He put on his dress white uniform and took the oath.
He chuckled, feeling foolish over the memory.
The average college football fan is unaware of the commitment Army West Point players make as they return for first day of classes their junior season. Anytime in the first two years at West Point they can walk away without consequences. But once they complete the affirmation ceremony, they are committed for two more years of school and upon graduation five years active duty as an officer.
Affirmation day is another week away for the Black Knights’ juniors following Saturday’s scrimmage marking the first week of fall camp. Tyson Riley, a junior fullback from Mount Vernon, Missouri, smiled as he was asked about the upcoming affirmation day. He’s said he was too preoccupied with fall camp.
“Honestly, with you asking me about it, I’m thinking about it a little more,” he said. “Definitely, when I put on my whites, and I go to the ceremony it’s going to hit me. But I haven’t had second thoughts about it. This is what I want to do with my life.”
The NCAA transfer portal facilitates immediate eligibility at a new school, but so far Army survived its first major test in the off-season. Sophomore Isaiah Alston (6-4, 195), a wide receiver with NFL size and exceptional hands, entered the portal, but he withdrew his name from the portal before spring football.
“I’m excited to be back on the field, especially with the guys I spent the summer working out with,” Alston said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “I’m grateful they accepted me back on the team. I had to prove to them my loyalty. I told them this is where I’m going to graduate from. I’m glad to be back.”
Junior fullback Jakobi Buchanan of St. Charles, Missouri, also said he’s ready for the ceremony.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “This is a big milestone in my life. Everything I’ve gone through since prep school up until now with football and school, and it’s finally here. It feels really good.”
West Point’s Class of 2014 takes the Affirmation oath.
Buchanan, a 6-foot, 265-pounder, and Tyson, a 6-2, 255-pounder recruited as a quarterback, provide the Black Knights with powerful blocking and running from the position. Buchanan carried 136 times for 504 yards and 12 touchdowns. Riley started two games a year ago while finishing with 44 carries for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s 702 yards and 14 touchdowns of thunder inside.
Another junior in football eligibility due to the COVID-19 year is starting cornerback Jabari Moore (5-11, 195) of Hoover, Alabama.
“Definitely, coming here out of high school you don’t know what you’re getting into,” Moore said. “Stepping on campus the first day of Beast (boot camp) you’re hit with all these things you’re learning. There are all these standards and discipline you’re held to. It’s rough coming from a high school that had nothing to do with the military.
“You learn all that stuff coming up to your affirmation decision. You’re committed or not at this point. It’s a big decision for a lot of people. At this point, I’m committed to everything this school has instilled in me. It’s not a toss up to affirm or not.”
Army offensive coordinator Brent Davis says he’s gained a greater appreciation for affirmation day as he enters his ninth season at West Point. Davis was the OC at Georgia Southern under Jeff Monken before Monken landed the Army job in 2014.
“One of the most rewarding things has been to see guys who have left and the things they’re doing in the Army now,” he said. “To see guys like Bryce Holland, who was ranked first in Ranger class and then finish first in special forces selection, I have great pride. I think every offensive lineman that has gone to Ranger school from Army West Point over the last eight years has made it straight through.
“Not that we had anything to do with that but knowing football is leadership laboratory and it hopefully have helped those guys and have those guys come back and tell you, ‘Coach, there things you did that I do with guys in my unit,’ there is immense pride in that. I know they get great training in the Army but to think we can play a role in them becoming great leaders of men and women serving in U.S. Army, that’s very humbling.”
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Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the integration of college football.
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BUBBA’S DAD, DUFFY AND COLLEG FOOTBALL’S UNDERGROUND RAILROAD