A day before Army West Point’s Aaron Kemper took the field for the Black Knights’ second fall camp scrimmage on Saturday, he explained the conundrum high school backs face in the transition to college.
You can’t carry the ball unless you’re on the field. And if you can’t demonstrate you can block, you can’t get on the field.
Kemper, a 5-foot-6, 210-pound junior fullback, got on the field in the scrimmage enough to score on a two-yard touchdown run.
“I’ve been working on my weakness,” Kemper said in a phone interview Friday. “The one thing I really need to work on is my blocking. That’s been my main focus to make me the best player I can be.”
In other scrimmage highlights, sophomore quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw started with the No. 1 unit. He has been in competition with senior A.J. Schurr, who started with No. 1 unit in last week’s scrimmage. Second-year Army head coach Jeff Monken said he’s still moving players between first and second units before settling on a depth chart.
Kemper, who worked with the second team, arrived at Army like most high school stars accustomed to carrying the ball as the team’s workhorse. But he knows now that advacing to the next level – whether it is high school to college or college to the NFL – requires you must master blocking skills to get on the field.
In most cases, learning blocking means pass protection. At Army, that also means blocking for your backfield mates in the triple-option offense.
“I blocked a little in high school but not nearly as much as I have to now,” he said. “I’ve been working with my position coach, coach (Sean) Saturnio, on getting down the fundamentals – footwork, body position and learning where to hit a defender when you’re blocking.”
That’s not to say Kemper, who also played at the Army prep school before admission to West Point as a freshman in 2013, hasn’t enjoyed his moments with Big Army, otherwise known as the varsity.
As a sophomore in 2014, he carried 24 times for 142 yards and a touchdown. The TD was a 74-yarder in the Black Knights’ 49-43 overtime loss at Yale. In 2013, he ran 12 times for 44 yards and one TD.
Although short in stature, Kemper has always packed punch. At Cincinnati Winton Woods, he was the two-time Fort Ancient Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Army was recruiting a Winton Woods teammate, who committed but is no longer with the Black Knights, when the coaching staff learned about Kemper.
For Kemper, the last two seasons it would have taken more than blocking to get on the field. Army featured 1,000-yard rushers Raymond Maples (2011 and 2012), Terry Baggett (2013) and Larry Dixon (2014) together in last year as Maples returned for a fifth year from a medical redshirt. They could block and run.
Baggett and Maples were halfbacks, but note that Dixon, a fullback, was the 1,000-yard rusher last season under Monken in his version of the triple option. Kemper expects overall team improvement in Monken’s second season.
“We know the offense and defense better now in our second year,” Kemper said. “We’re focused on the small details that will make us a better and faster team.”
Army, 4-8 a year ago, opens the season against Fordham, a Football Championship Subdivision school, on Sept. 4 at Michie Stadium. The Black Knights are seeking their first winning season since 7-6 with an Armed Forces Bowl victory over SMU in 2010.
“We thought we were a better team than our record last year,” Kemper said. “But we have to learn how to finish games. That’s our main focus.”