With the start of college football season right around the corner, anticipation is thick in the air. There are plenty of storylines around college football heading into 2019. Various analysts are ranking their Heisman candidates and who’s making it into the CFP. For Army fans, there’s plenty to speculate about - from a critical game against Michigan in Week 2 to whispers of an undefeated season.
However, in order to make any of those things happen, several Black Knights will have to step up in a big way. There should be no surprises here about who to keep an eye on 2019:
Kelvin Hopkins Jr.
There’s no contest as to the #1 name on this list. Kelvin Hopkins has elevated the Black Knights offensively, and has added a dimension to their triple-option attack that Army fans used to only be able to dream of. The accolades have poured in for Hopkins, and with them, even greater expectations for 2019.
The senior QB is currently one of 34 players on the watch list for the College Football Performance Awards National Performer of the Year Trophy. In addition, Hopkins is on the watchlist for these other awards: the Walter Camp Award - awarded annually to the Player of the Year in college football; the Maxwell Award - presented annually to the player judged to be the best all-around as decided by a select panel; and finally, the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award - given annually to the player judged by the Davey O’Brien Foundation to be the best NCAA quarterback.
Not to mention the #hopforheisman movement that’s gaining momentum among Army fans on social media. Hopkins has set a high bar for Army, and we’re all hoping that he can raise it even higher in 2019.
Elijah Riley has established a reputation as a shutdown defensive back for Army. And he’s certainly getting some attention for it as well. Heading into the 2019 season, Riley is currently on two award watch lists. His two award watch lists are for the Bronco Nagurski Award - awarded annually to the best defensive player in NCAA football, and the Chuck Bednarik award - presented to college football’s defensive player of the year.
As one of two defensive captains, the Black Knights will look to Riley as an example and source of leadership over the course of the season. He will need bring his tenacity and physicality in 2019, and it should be fun to watch opposing QBs who try to challenge his side of the field.
The second-year captain and cornerstone of the Army defense, Cole Christiansen emerges from James Nachtigal’s shadow in 2019. Christiansen has already made a name for himself, and takes his place in a long succession of vaunted Army linebackers. Although not on any watch lists for 2019, Christiansen did make Phil Steele’s 2019 Preseason Independent First Team.
Christiansen made some big plays on defense in 2018, and the Black Knights will need more of the same from their experienced captain in 2019.
Peyton Reeder has some big shoes to fill. It appears that Reeder will move into the vacated center position that was occupied by none other than Bryce Holland. Reeder is no stranger to the offensive line, and actually finds himself on an award watch list himself - the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best center in college football.
If there is any person or group that can dictate the feasibility of #hopforheisman, it is Reeder and Co. Reeder was a crucial part of Army’s rushing success in 2018, and his experience will be essential to maintaining that consistency in 2019.
There are plenty of players deserving to be on this list; however, Kell Walker makes the final cut due to his abilities as both a running back and a receiver. As a slotback in Army’s triple-option, Walker is frequently called upon for quick runs to either side of the field (usually for big yardage) or as a receiving option for Hopkins out of the backfield. Walker’s versatility makes him a big threat.
Walker also made Phil Steele’s 2019 Preseason Independent First Team along with a few others on our Top 5 list. It’ll be interesting to see just how wide head coach Jeff Monken cracks open the playbook with Hopkins, but expect to see Kell Walker in the thick of things on almost every play.
Army has plenty of exciting players to watch in 2019. From other big-name returners like Jaylon McClinton, Connor Slomka, and Jaxson Deaton to up-and-coming players looking to make a name for themselves, there will be lots to cheer about for Army fans in 2019.