Photo: Chris Carnegie breaks clear on his interception touchdown return.
Army West Point’s Chris Carnegie and his fellow seniors – known colloquially as “firsties” – must shake off a season-opening loss at the same time they make a pressing decision they’ll learn the answer to in the fall.
“We’ll find out in November,” he said.
Other college teams that lost their season opener are worried about bowl eligibility when the calendar flips to November, but West Point, where Carnegie is a fourth-year starting cornerback, isn’t other schools.
The seniors are about to put in for the branch they request to be assigned to as officers upon graduation in the spring.
“I plan to put infantry as my first choice,” Carnegie said.
Infantry in a dangerous world plagued by Middle Eastern terrorism is not the quite the same pressing matter as bowl eligibility.
“It’s dangerous, but it’s the closest thing to a team atmosphere and brotherhood,” Carnegie said. “I want to be a leader and leaders have to be able to push their team in certain situations to do dangerous things.”
Football is Carnegie’s leadership role this week. The Black Knights face the task of bouncing back after losing 37-35 to a Fordham, a lower level FCS member. Army plays Saturday at Connecticut, a 20-15 winner last week over Villanova of the FCS.
“It’s behind us,” Carnegie said. “We learned from our mistakes. On defense we have to key on our assignments. We got ahead of ahead of ourselves and let the game come at us too fast. We have to react to what we see and get comfortable.”
Carnegie, one of the reasons there was optimism around an Army team playing its second season under head coach Jeff Monken, shouldered the blame. Army was expected to be strong this year with Carnegie and junior Josh Jenkins as returning starting cornerbacks. But Jenkins missed the game with an injury, leaving Carnegie alone as the veteran in the secondary.
“I might have tried to do too much,” he said. “I was trying to do things outside of my job.”
Without Jenkins, Army was down to four returning starters on defense.
“I think we are ahead of where were last year,” said Carnegie of playing in Monken’s system. “But a lot of guys were new and the game was coming at them too fast. We have to focus on the keys and feel comfortable with what we’re running. Practice from the game to this week has gone a lot better. We’re excited.
Last year Army pulled off its biggest win of a disappointing 4-8 season with a 35-21 victory over Connecticut at Yankee Stadium. The Huskies were driving for a tying touchdown when Carnegie picked off a pass and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown with two minutes to play.
Everyone associated with Army football congratulated him, but no one reminds him more than his grandmother, Marcella Cooper. That was especially true when he was home in Oakland for a bit during the summer between military training and returning to campus for the start of football fall camp. She not only was watching the Connecticut game, she recorded it.
“She plays that play over and over,” he said. “I’m really proud of that. It’s a great highlight, but I have to put it on the shelf after the way I played last week.”
Carnegie says the team’s confidence is not shaken by a loss that puts the Black Knights in the position of needing to win six of 11 for bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.
Army has an automatic tie-in to the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, but the Black Knights can’t until December 12 against Navy for their sixth win. They need clinch by late November – about the time they learn they’re branch – or by the Dec. 5 weekend of conference championship games. A sixth win in the Army-Navy Game doesn’t give Poinsettia Bowl officials enough time to promote the Dec. 23 game’s matchup.
“This week is a new game and a new team,” Carnegie said. “We haven’t beaten this Connecticut team. We’ve got to beat this year’s Connecticut team like last year didn’t happen. Our confidence hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re still confident about this season.