WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is a bundle of nerves. The thought of playing one’s final college game can have that effect, and it’s magnified when the opponent is a fierce rival.
“One last time. I want to make it perfect,” Hopkins said as he prepared to face Navy on Saturday. “I’m super excited but definitely nervous.”
Hopkins is a member of a senior class that has a chance to do what no West Point class has done since 1996 — end its career with zero losses to Navy. Army snapped Navy’s 14-game winning streak in the series three years ago and has narrowed the Midshipmen’s lead in the series to 60-52-7.
“To go undefeated against Navy, finish your career as a winner, to do that would be awesome,” Hopkins said.
When Jeff Monken took over as coach before the 2014 season, Army had posted just one winning season since the 1996 team won 10 games. The Black Knights were coming off a 2-10 campaign two years later when Hopkins and his classmates arrived.
Since then, Army has made an impressive turnaround, winning 34 games to match the academy record for a four-year span. Teams coached by Ralph Sasse (1930-32) and Gar Davidson (1933) set the standard, and Earl “Red” Blaik’s teams from 1943-46 matched it, winning two national championships.
“This senior class has meant a lot for the program and the contributions they’ve made,” Monken said. “These guys have been part of a lot of victories.”
One more would be extra-special.
“We’ve accomplished something that most Army teams haven’t done,” said senior linebacker Cole Christiansen, who leads the team with 103 tackles. “The chance to become the winningest class in Army football history, I think we’ve played a pretty integral part in turning this ship around.”
A victory over No. 21 Navy (9-2, No. 23, CFP) would be a welcome end to a tough season for Army (5-7). There is no bowl game on the horizon for the first time since the seniors arrived at West Point. Too many injuries to key players, especially at quarterback, helped short-circuit a season that started with much promise after two seasons of double-digit wins.
“We fought through a lot of adversity this year coming off two really good seasons,” junior fullback Sandon McCoy said. “They (the seniors) taught us how to fight through the adversity — when we don’t like the outcome of a lot of our games, keep fighting, keep practicing, be ready every day to work.”
The seniors helped accomplish this on their watch: won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy two consecutive times, an academy first; won three straight bowl games, an academy first; posted a 17-2 home record at Michie Stadium, including two consecutive unbeaten seasons and a streak of 15 straight wins; matched a school record with 10 wins in 2017, then won 11 games in 2018; ended last season ranked (19th) for the first time since 1996 (25th).
Army’s chance to play in another bowl game vanished when it lost 52-31 at Hawaii two weeks ago. Keeping that big trophy right where it is on campus for another year is the mission.
“I think we just brought a winning culture back to this team,” Hopkins said. “This season isn’t exactly where we wanted it to be, but there’s wins on the board. We set the precedent for the young guys to come back and work harder.
“When we showed up, it was a 2-10 team with a lot of guys that wanted to work hard. And now we’re here coming off three really good seasons. Senior season had a lot of ups and downs, but it’s definitely a step up from where we showed up to where we’re leaving.”