at last year's spring scrimmage, the Black and Gold game. My girls and I went together, and it was one of the first times that they both took an active interest in what was going on down on the field. In particular, my youngest Emma was enthused, and in the months since, she's gotten to the point where she'll sit down and watch an entire game with me--and understand the majority of what she's seeing. That was a work-in-progress all last season at Michie, but it started to come together for real at the spring scrimmage.
The scrimmage itself was fun. In contrast to the summer scrimmage ahead of the 2015 season, there were maybe 3,000 fans in attendance in the spring, and the crowd was lively. We'd just come off a 2-10 season, but the team had performed above expectations to finish, and fans were electrified by Army's performance against Navy. Everyone could see that the team was building something, but it was a little unclear how far along we were in the process. I personally came out to see how the offense was working, and in that, I was not disappointed.
For the past year or so, Army's defense had dominated. We'd seen this at every scrimmage. That spring scrimmage, then, was the first hint in a long time that the offense might be starting to get itself together. Chris Carter in particular threw very well that day, and all of the fullbacks ran well. To be honest, I thought the defense struggled. This was highly unusual, and I doubt very much that they enjoyed it.
The play of the game, then, was made CB Brandon Jackson. His was the play I wrote about later when I wrote the scrimmage up. QB Ahmad Bradshaw was in the game with the Ones, driving from right to left from about his own 30. He had WR Edgar Poe wide on the near sideline, one-on-one with Jackson covering. He saw it immediately, took the snap, and threw a beautiful hard out to Poe, up high where Poe could use his height advantage to go get the ball. Right read, right throw. We've seen Edgar Poe go up and get these kinds of balls many times. I thought this one was going to go for a touchdown. I was happy for Bradshaw because he'd struggled a little with the offense the previous season, and now all that anybody could talk about was Chris Carter. But here was Bradshaw, making the right read and running the offense correctly.
Jackson jumped the route and made one of the most athletic leaps I have ever seen, coming down with the ball right in front of Army's best receiver.
PHOTO: Freshman CB Brandon Jackson picks off pass. #BlackGoldGame. @Backendcoach12 reacts. #ArmyFootball pic.twitter.com/rQggV4Gx9b— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) May 1, 2016
This was by no means the only interception I ever saw Jackson make, but it was a truly spectacular play, a full and complete expression of what he had as an athlete and as a man. The fact that it happened at a scrimmage in front of just 3,000 fans doesn't take away from what it showed about his potential. He was an absolutely outstanding football player.
It seems a little weird to say it now, but Army's secondary was a hot mess at the start of last season. The team's safeties struggled in 2014, and although Xavier Moss came over from the offense to help out, he didn't look comfortable at all in the first two games. The UConn game in particular was tough. S Rhyan England played okay, but Moss wasn't good, and CB Chris Carnegie gave up at least two critical pass interference calls. My buddy Chris and I headed to the Wake Forest game with more than a little trepidation.
That was the first game that Jackson started, right at the beginning of his plebe year. I'd never heard of him. I'd read quite a bit about James Gibson and OLB Kenneth Brinson. When Jackson got the start ahead of those guys, I thought, "Shit, they must really be desperate."
He had two interceptions against Wake Forest.
With that side of the field locked down, Moss and Carnegie both settled, and England looked actively good for the first time that I could remember. The defense actually looked like a defense. They played well. 2015 was still a season of disappointments, but for the first time, we started to see some of the building blocks coming together. Every game that Army almost won last year, they almost won it because of their defense.
I've read a lot of previews of Army Football's 2016 season, and most of them malign Army's secondary. Nearly all of them mention the UConn game and all the near-misses that Army had last season. These were uniformly written by guys that didn't watch the games. You can tell because actual fans saw a defense that has been steadily improving for a long time. They saw a secondary that started to come together as a unit when Brandon Jackson came in to lock down one side of the field. He was the building block they were looking for in a season of severe challenges and disappointments.
Opposing quarterbacks weren't throwing at Jackson as much in 2016. He had a critical pass defense in the End Zone against Temple and another on 3rd down against Rice, and he had a handful of tackles, but P.J. Walker especially went after new starter Marcus Hyatt. This was the right decision, though I think Hyatt has played well. Still, it's a strong indication of what other teams thought of Jackson's abilities. From his play, you could see that he was more than ready to live up to the expectations.
This year's Army team has more talent than a lot of recent editions have had, and I have no doubt that they will continue to perform on the field. What's harder is learning to move on after the loss of a classmate or teammate. That is a lesson that I didn't have to learn until I was quite a few years older, and--Thank God--I've never lost a teammate. Honestly, I don't even want to think about it. It's tough. There's no other way to put it. I feel for those guys and the struggle they have to go through.
I never met Brandon Jackson. Sally's cousin Jacqueline met him a couple of weeks ago, but my personal thinking is that Old Grads tend to get in the way when Academy sports teams are trying to accomplish something. I love our teams, but I'm content to watch them play.
I've enjoyed watching Jackson, and from all I've read, he was a Hell of a young man. I am incredibly sad that he's gone, but I honor his memory.
West Point Mourns the Passing of Brandon Jacksonhttps://t.co/ABGRKSU5us— ArmyWestPoint Sports (@GoArmyWestPoint) September 12, 2016
Well done! Be thou at peace.