By Alex E. Peña | @alejandropena
WEST POINT, N.Y. –The last time Army’s football team took home bragging rights against its armed forces rival Navy, Matthew Kauffman was barely a first grader – 13 years ago.
But Army’s futility stretches much farther than that, and during his time at West Point, the former McAllen Memorial quarterback quickly learned that is not in line with the Black Knights’ standards.
“Our chant is ’Go Army, beat Navy,’” Kauffman said,’ but it’s been a while since we’ve done that.”
Since 2001 to be exact (a 26-17 win against Navy at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium), but Army has had one winning season since 1997 and that was just one game over .500 in 2010, the last time Army went to a bowl game.
A fresh blowout loss last season to the Midshipmen, however, was the last straw, and that ushered in a change of coaching staff. Now under Jeff Monken, Army hopes that its football program becomes relevant again.
That may come with Kauffman under center.
“There’s word going around that I’m in the conversation (to start next year),” Kauffman said. “I still have to compete. A few guys here are older than me and more experienced so I have to work hard.”
When Kauffman signed to play football at Army two years ago, his intentions were to compete at quarterback for the only Division I school that offered him that chance to do so – every other school wanted him as a defensive back or walk-on.
Kauffman certainly did his part to leave an imprint on the new staff during the annual Army Spring football game, starting for the Gold team in a 20-14 victory over the Black on April 19. The sophomore signal caller completed 13 of 17 passes for 206 yards and a 36-yard touchdown pass during the first quarter.
To those who did not know him before, come on in.
“Some said ‘who’s this kid?'” Kauffman said. “I did well. I got my shot, went down the field and scored.”
Kauffman’s ascending path into the limelight is one he’s not unfamiliar with.
When he entered high school in South Texas he was competing against upperclassmen for playing time, including incumbent George Thatcher, a senior, whom he beat out for the starting job.
That paved the way for a decorated four-year career at McAllen Memorial, throwing for 5,571 yards and 45 touchdowns. The former Mustangs quarterback also rushed for 5,164 yards and 76 touchdowns.
Once he graduated in 2012, he held many major offensive school records.
“It’s something I will always hold dear in my heart,” Kauffman said. “Here I was, a 15-year-old kid going against 18-year-olds who already started.”
His father was the offensive coordinator for Memorial when he played, but crapping for playing time with the Black Knights will be a different tale. Kauffman is in the mix with four other quarterbacks, most notably last year’s starter, senior and three-year lettermen Angel Santiago.
“Brand new year,” Kauffman said. “Should be fun. Can’t wait.”
Kauffman is upbeat about his changes to start.
Army has a preparatory school where incoming students get ready physically and academically. Prospects take three to four classes which count towards admission to the school, and that’s where Kauffman was.
It is almost like red-shirting without the actual term attached. Kauffman is considered a freshman, though he will enter his second season at West Point.
He spent the entirety of last season as the junior varsity quarterback, taking snaps on scout team duties. He did not travel with the main Army team, instead playing against junior colleges and smaller East Coast teams while crafting his game. Army finished 2013 at 3-9, but throughout another disappointing season, Kauffman was observant and studious during practice, treating every rep like it he was leading the team on game day.
With one year of the triple option under his belt, he’s been progressing at a rapid pace.
First on the practice field, then in the scrimmages and now at the spring game.
Pretty soon, it could be on Saturdays at Mitchie Stadium.
“I’m just doing my best to help the team,” Kauffman said. “Whatever happens, happens. I will continue to work hard and improve.”