Photo: Kenneth Brinson (see video of strip-sack below)
If college football mic’d players for games, Army senior outside linebacker Kenneth Brinson made a play for the ideal mic drop.
Navy rallied after trailing the Black Knights all afternoon in the 119th Army-Navy Game until Brinson strip-sacked the Midshipmen’s quarterback. He recovered the loose ball to essentially clinch the 17-10 victory on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia.
A fully authentic “mic drop” would have required Brinson to walk away by skipping his bowl game, but West Pointers don’t pass on playing for their teammates. Brinson is looking forward to his third straight bowl game to cap his career.
“To me, this is reflection of how far we’ve come from a 2-10 season (his freshman year),” he said. “It’s a blessing and it’s encouraging to continue (the program’s progress). For me, individually, it’s a blessing to play one more time with my teammates. I look forward to the game.”
That’s a sharp contrast with a growing trend among college football players that are skipping bowl games to protect themselves for the NFL draft.
Earlier this year, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point grad that served in Afghanistan, spared no words when he told me he watched with special pride as Army nearly upset Oklahoma’s NFL-laden roster before falling in overtime, 28-21.
“I looked at the Army side in that game and saw players that are willing to serve their country and take on the toughest challenges society has to offer,” he said. “On the other side I saw guys trying to get to the NFL as a test of their manhood in a society that looks up to NFL players. They are working toward the easiest path, leaving college as semester early to train for the NFL.
“At West Point, they're in the middle of the woods and they're studying and preparing themselves right up to the last day to be leaders of character. West Point is something I appreciate a lot more. Army football is the most special football team that the entire country has to offer.”
Coincidentally, Army’s bowl opponent, Houston, features a player skipping the post-season contest. Defensive lineman Ed Oliver is widely projected among the top NFL draft picks.
Army (10-2), ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press and No. 25 in USA Today, and the formerly ranked Cougars (8-4) meet in the Lockheed Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday in Fort Worth, Tx.
Villanueva doesn’t spare words, but Brinson added no criticism of Oliver or others.
“Decisions like that are context driven and individual choices,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say about that.”
Most academy athletes are lightly recruited without NFL projections, but Brinson is a throwback exception.
He picked West Point over Stanford and other Power 5 scholarship offers. The fourth-year starter leads Army in career starts, making his 42nd against Houston and 39th consecutive.
“I thought this place would be good for me,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself. I’ve been developed here. It’s been a good learning experience for me.”
Brinson carries a 3.9 grade-point average in chemical engineering and was a finalist for the Campbell Trophy, the academic Heisman. Upon graduation, he has been branched to “Medical Service Corps” with plans for medical school.
He doesn’t yet know his first assignment, but for the rest of his military career he’ll be asked about his strip-sack that beat Navy. That means he’ll have to come with better answers than what he told me when I asked him to describe the play. Generals like to re-hash such moments.
Brinson breaks down a chemical engineering equation with more passion than his dramatic strip-sack. I had to pry it out of him out of after Thursday's practice.
Me: Put aside your humbleness and describe the sack with the force fumble and recovery.
Brinson: “Coach Bateman called the play,” he said, referring to defensive coordinator Jay Batemen, who has since accepted at job at North Carolina. “Amadeo West was standing next to me and said to go make a play. ‘Go get a sack.’ I got off the ball and I was lucky enough to make the play.”
Me: You’ve got to tell me more than that. What did you see lining up?
Brinson: “The ball got snapped, I saw (the left offensive tackle) kick set and so I took off. I caught (the quarterback’s) arm, turned him around and saw the ball in front of me so I tried to knock it down.
Me: Did you get blocked?
Brinson: The tackle blocked me.
Me: How did you get past him?
Brinson: “I pinned his outside arm.”
He never did mention he recovered the fumble.
“Kenny is one of the most impressive guys I’ve ever me in my life,” said Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, the game MVP. “What he has been able to do academically and with football is amazing. He’s a genuine guy – always super nice and personable. For him to make that great play in that moment was awesome to watch.”
Following the play, Brinson would have preferred to trot off the field, take a seat and watch the final moments tick off. But his teammates wouldn’t have it; they mobbed him. They encircled him, enthusiastically jumping up and down to reach over each others in order to slap him on the back and shoulders.
“It was just another play in the game, but it was blessing to be able to make a play for your teammates,” he said. “To be able do your job and perform on the stage like that was great. It’s great to be 3-1 as a class against Navy. That’s something our class came in wanting to change. It’s exciting to seeing the fruits of our labor as a team and individually.”
It's a play that goes down as one of the more memorable moments in the history of college football’s grandest rivalry.
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