WEST POINT, N.Y. – Army West Point coach Jeff Monken met with his players as fall camp opened and discussed the upcoming season. He highlighted Army’s bowl tie-in with the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
“When he mentioned it, no one really reacted much,” said Army junior defensive tackle Jordan Smith, who played at Oceanside High, a California prep power near San Diego. “But I got super excited. That’s my hometown. That would be a dream-come-true for me to have my family, my friends and my high school coaching staff come see me play. Being here on the East Coast, it’s hard for anyone to come see me play.”
Smith is four years removed from his senior year at Oceanside—he spent one year at the Army prep school before admission to West Point—but he said John Carroll, his head coach at Oceanside, still keeps up with him.
“He calls me and sends me texts,” Smith said. “He watches the games and tells me things he sees.”
As Smith listened to Monken last summer, he was coming off a sophomore season that stalled at the end of the year due to a nagging hamstring injury. Then it flared up again in spring drills. If there was any doubt he would be recovered, the thought of Army playing in San Diego was added motivation.
Smith was confident he was ready to claim a starting role entering fall camp, but the trainers were initially cautious with him considering previous setbacks before he was cleared for full practices. Smith has started all seven games, though, as Army (2-5) prepares to play Saturday at Conference-USA member Rice (3-3). He is coming off one of his stronger performances in a 21-14 win over Bucknell last week. He recorded four tackles with one for a loss of 1.5 yards and blocked his second extra-point kick of the year.
Smith is sixth on the team in tackles with 25, even though the 6-foot-3, 258-pounder’s job as an undersized defensive tackle is to tie up blockers for Army’s two vacuum-cleaner linebackers, leading tacklers Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf. “I haven’t gone up against a lineman smaller than me all year,” he said. “But I’m having fun. In this defense, we use our speed, hands and leverage.”
Army’s record makes bowl eligibility a tough task with only five games remaining, but Smith says the Black Knights remain confident that they are an improving team. Their first three losses were by a combined 10 points – Fordham, 37-35; Connecticut, 22-17; and Wake Forest on a field goal as time expired, 24-21.
After Army broke into the win column the following week with a 58-36 victory at Eastern Michigan, the Black Knights lost at Penn State 20-14 and the next week in their only one-sided decision, a 44-3 loss at home to No. 23 Duke. The Fordham loss in the season opener could end up haunting the Black Knights the most.
“We’ve lost close games, but we don’t think a bowl game is out of our sights,” he said. “That keeps us hungry. We just look week to week and don’t flinch.”
San Diego is a Navy town and Oceanside is home to the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton, and the Marines are a division of the Navy. But Navy (nor Air Force) recruited Smith. So he will be fine with playing for Army in a Navy town should the Black Knights qualify. He said he knew little about West Point until the Black Knights recruited him. “San Diego is a long ways away from West Point,” Smith said. “But when I took my recruiting trip here, I knew I wanted to come here. I loved the culture. This place has something to offer that others schools don’t, and that’s leadership. This place is teaching me to be a leader. When I graduate, I’ll have a job. That will be a great responsibility to be the leader of young men and women.”
Smith said his grandfather, a retired Navy captain that served in Vietnam, encouraged him to take advantage of his West Point opportunity. “He was the most excited of anyone in the family when he found out that West Point was recruiting me,” Smith said. “He knew what West Point has to offer as an institution.”
All that remains is an Army winning streak to book that homecoming bowl game.