Photo: Army fullback Connor Slomka
Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr.’s parents, like many North Carolinians late last week, were on the move ahead of Hurricane Dorian. They hoped their flight out of Charlotte to Detroit wouldn’t be canceled.
Kelvin Hopkins Sr. and Cyndi Hopkins had a college football game to get to – Army at Michigan Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Most of the Carolinas were spared from Dorian damage that was limited to coastal areas -- which certainly isn’t any less comforting to those victimized -- but life went on in the rest of the country. And in America on Saturdays in the fall that means college football.
Hopkins’ parents and other parents of Black Knights players made it to their seats in the Army rooting section at Michigan Stadium among a crowd of 111,747. They nearly saw an epic upset as Army took Michigan to double-overtime before falling to the No. 7-ranked Wolverines, 24-21.
“The experience was fantastic watching a game with a crowd that size,” Hopkins Sr. said. “I was nervous the whole game. All the parents were excited. I just wish we had won the game. It was so close.”
Hopkins Jr., a second-year starter that played at Charlotte Independence, met with his parents briefly after the game before the Black Knights returned to West Point.
“Kel and the players were a little upset,” Hopkins Sr. said. “Of course they were a little upset when you have a team like that on the ropes but let them off. But you’ve got to live with the outcome. Army is a tough team.”
But on such a day, the pride Army parents feel is deeper than the athletic performance.
There also are fans acknowledging respect for cadets that are making the selfless sacrifice to serve their country during an endless war on terrorism. The same is true at Navy (Annapolis) and Air Force (Colorado Springs).
Most college football fans were surprised by the result, but Army entered the game determined to prove last year’s Oklahoma result wasn’t a fluke. The Black Knights took Oklahoma to overtime before falling 28-21 to a team that at the time was ranked No. 4 in the nation and earned one of the four College Football Playoff berths.
“They came into this game with the expectation to win,” Army head coach Jeff Monken told Fox Sports reporter Jenny Taft after the game. “Our Superintendent, Gen. (Darryl) Williams, and our former superintendent, Gen. (Robert) Caslen, have always said when American people put boots on the ground they expect to win. That’s the heart of the American soldier. Those going are going to fight.
“Everybody that watched this, I hope it was a great representation of the United States Army; the grit and the determination they have in the face of the enemy. I’m so proud of our team. We made mistakes, some things we could have controlled that probably cost us the game. Those are the things that hurt the most.”
Fans might have been surprised, but the Associated Press writers and the USA Today coaches voting in their respective Top 25 polls shouldn’t have been. They still seem to be overlooking that Army finished 2018 with an 11-2 record and ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and No. 20 in USA Today.
The lack of appreciation was reflected in the latest polls. Although Michigan was punished, dropping from No. 7 to No. 10 in both the AP and USA Today polls, Army didn’t climb into the Top 25 in either poll.
In AP, they are No. 31 with 42 points (down from No. 30 a week ago with the same points); in USA Today, they are No. 33 (up one spot from No. 34 with 24 points).
Hopkins Jr. finished the game 18 carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 43 yards with one interception. In the second overtime, Hopkins was avoiding pressure on a third-and-11 when he was sacked and fumbled to end the game.
The loss was a disappointment, but the Army parents returned home proud of the performance and the foundation to their sons’ futures as West Point graduates.
Cydni Hopkins remembers receiving a phone call from Kelvin Jr. while he was on his recruiting trip at West Point.
“I didn’t know much about West Point, but I started reading about it,” she said. “I told him this is way bigger than football. This is about what he can do with his life after football. A lot of doors will open for him. He’s excited, too.”
Hopkins Sr. served two years in the Army in the 1980s at Fort Carson in Colorado. He likes to say he had his son “in the Army since he was 2 doing pushups as a form of training and discipline.”
He laughed and added, “I’m proud of him to max. I’m sure he’s going to have more success.”
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Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
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