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Service Academy Spotlight on the Army Black Knights

Army Black Knights Football
© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

In the U.S. Constitution, rule No. 1 is that you must never disrespect the troops, especially those who also play college football. Don't look it up, I promise it's there. In all seriousness, the service academies are greatly important to our sport and this country.

Over the next several weeks, we will dive deeply into some of the history and traditions of each of the major service academy teams: Air Force, Army and Navy. We will also preview the upcoming season for each of these squads. During the season, be sure to check back in to see how the service academies are doing, along with where they stand in the competition for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

Army Cadets
© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army Black Knights, American Athletic Conference

The United States Military Academy is located in West Point, N.Y., and is home to hundreds/thousands of future platoon leaders in the United States Army. Leadership is the most important subject that any cadet will study at West Point, and leaders are often forged on the gridiron.

Army Cadets graduation
© John Meore/The Journal News/USA TODAY NETWORK

Having been an independent since 2005, the Black Knights will enter their first season as a member of the American Athletic Conference in 2024.

Jeff Monken has been the head coach at Army since 2014 and has posted a 70-55 record with five bowl victories. Eighteen of those 55 losses occurred in Monken's first two seasons.

Army Head Football Coach Jeff Monken
© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2015, the Black Knights have won nine or more games four times with only one losing season. More importantly, Monken has a 6-4 record against Navy and has won the CIC Trophy outright four times and shared it once. Monken was a longtime assistant under the triple-option savant Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, Navy and Georgia Southern.


Army has a rich football history, dating back to 1890. Their first-ever game was a home defeat suffered against Navy. Perhaps the most notable period in the program's history occurred during the World War II era. From 1944 to 1946, Army posted a 27-0-1 record and produce two Heisman Trophy winners en route to three straight national championships.

Those Heismans were awarded to running backs Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, known as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside respectively. Blanchard and Davis helped Army dominate opponents in the 1940s. Both backs were also winners of the Maxwell Award, with Davis claiming it in 1944 and Blanchard bringing home the award in 1945.

For more on the impact of wartime on college football, check out this great piece from College Football Dawgs' own Michael Brown.

One of the most important games in Army football history took place in Yankee Stadium on Nov. 9, 1946, against Notre Dame. Dubbed the game of the century, the Fighting Irish and the Black Knights battled to a 0-0 tie.

In 1996, a nationally televised prime-time matchup featured Army defeating Air Force 23-7 for their first 9-0 start in almost half a century.

Conference Affiliation

Army football operated as an independent from its inception until 1998, when it became part of Conference USA. This proved to be a poor move for Army, as the Black Knights stumbled to a 13-67 record during their seven seasons in CUSA. The Black Knights left CUSA after the 2004 season and regained their status as an independent. Army's difficult time in CUSA had a lingering impact, however, as they only had one winning season between 2005 and 2016.

As of July 1, 2024, Army is an official member of the American Athletic Conference. Beginning this season, the Black Knights will share a conference with Navy for the first time. In a scheduling oddity and in deference to tradition, the Army-Navy game is set to kick off on Dec. 14, one week after the AAC Championship Game, and will not count as a conference matchup.


Similar to Air Force football's pre-game traditions, Army has a cadet march-on and has the game ball delivered via parachute. Black Knight players do not wear their names on the backs of their jerseys. Instead, the only thing displayed is "Army", or the motto of the academy, "Duty, Honor, Country". After each score, cadets do push-ups as cannons fire in the background.

Army-Navy game prisoner exchange
© Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

At the Army-Navy game, the pomp and circumstance are elevated, as there are often high-ranking military officers or politicians attending the game. The two teams participate in the "prisoner exchange," where seven Army cadets and seven Navy midshipmen are returned to their original academy after spending the semester with their rivals. After the game, both teams will sing their respective alma mater songs, with the victor allowed to sing second.


Army's colors are black, gold and gray. Their traditional uniforms feature gold or black helmets with no logos on either side—a very clean look. Sewn on the right sleeve is an American flag with the star field facing forward. Players' last names are displayed on a front nameplate patch, consistent with military uniforms. Army chooses a different division's insignia to display on its players' helmets each week.

In their annual matchup with Navy, the Black Knights unveil new uniforms that honor distinguished units from the Army's history. This tradition commenced in 2016, with the Black Knights wearing uniforms honoring the World War II-era 82nd Airborne Division.

Notable Alumni

As a program, Army has had four head coaches and 24 players inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, including Earl Blaik, the winningest coach in school history. The most famous names associated with the program are Blanchard, Davis and running back Pete Dawkins, the third Army football player to win the Heisman. Future President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a part of the 1912 team.

Army football Pete Dawkins
© Detroit Free Press file photo

More recently, standout Black Knights player Alejandro Villanueva excelled at both the collegiate level and in the NFL. He played at West Point from 2006 to 2009 as a defensive end, tight end, wide receiver and offensive lineman. After his first tour in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, Villanueva was awarded a Bronze Star. He also served with the 75th Ranger Regiment, deploying two more times to Afghanistan.

Alejandro Villanueva
© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

His path to the NFL was a difficult one, as he failed to make an NFL roster in his first two tries in 2010 and 2012. Then, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him to their practice squad in 2014, and by 2016 he earned a starting tackle spot. Villanueva played seven seasons in the NFL, the first six of those for the Steelers.

2023 Season Review

The 2023 season was full of momentum swings, as the Black Knights started 2-6, including back-to-back shutout losses against Troy and LSU. After a narrow home loss against the Massachusetts Minutemen in late October, the Black Knights found their footing and reeled off four straight victories to end the year, starting with a 23-3 thumping of Air Force and a 17-11 win against Navy. This secured Army the outright CIC Trophy for the first time since 2020.

Army football
© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

2024 Season Outlook and Schedule

The Black Knights have several key playmakers returning for 2024, including quarterback Bryson Daly, who accounted for over 1,800 total yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Joining him in the backfield will be Kanye Udoh, who rushed for over 500 yards in his freshman season. The defense also returns important leaders, including safety Max DiDemonico and linebacker Kalib Fortner.

The first season in the AAC will be a challenge for Monken and Army, who are set to begin conference play on the road against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 7. The Black Knights will also play a game at Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame on Nov. 23. Retaining the CIC Trophy will be their primary objective, and they will face Air Force at home on Nov. 2, and Navy in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 14.

Stay tuned to College Football Dawgs for further reporting on the gridiron heroics of the service academies.


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