• Diane Roberts

Leaders Of Leaders: The 2021 Academy Football Team Captains

Reporting by Diane Roberts

edited for web by Joe Harman

Leadership is nothing new in sports, but at Service Academies, it might take a somewhat different form. After they leave the playing field, these men will go on to be leaders in the military. Leadership is something special, especially for these football team captains.

Army Black Knights' senior linebacker and team co-captain, Arik Smith, describes what it's like to be a leader of a team full of leaders: "We, as captains, we're in charge of holding the standard and pushing the culture of the team and making sure that's upheld, but that's not taking away from any leadership abilities or capabilities of the other people on the team."

That's a common refrain, echoed by team captains at Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. When you talk to the captains of any of the Service Academy teams, they will tell you any one of the players could be captain.

When your marching orders after college dictate service to country, service on the field is another opportunity to set an example.

"We know our role," says Army co-captain Marquel Broughon. "We all have different personalities and we use that to lead the team." Army co-captain Cedrick Cunningham, Jr., adds: "I think we cater the traits that we all have to the situation, and I think there's never any conflict with it."

Noting that he and the other three Army co-captains, Smith, Broughton, and Nolan Cockril, are all defensive players, Cunningham, Jr. says they have plenty of support from throughout the team. "We lean on other leaders on the team, guys on the offensive side of the ball, other guys on the defense side of the ball, and it's by committee. It's not just one guy."

At Navy, two captains come from each side of the ball, with SB Chance Warren and WR Mychal Cooper on offense and LB Diego Fagot and FS Kevin Brennan on defense. They've developed their leadership skills from those who came before them.

"As a leader, as a captain, I think he embodies what I want to aspire to," Fagot says about Jackson Perkins, the defensive lineman who served as tri-captain of the 2020 Navy team, "because his mentality, the way he attacked every single day with that positive attitude, with checking his baggage at the door, leaving everything behind."

"I'm a fiery leader . . .," Chance Warren, the Mids' senior Slotback said in an interview with Behind The Lines. He takes examples from his role model, Malcom Perry, the former Navy standout quarterback who was just claimed off waivers by the New England Patriots, and blends them with his own unique style. ". . . but Malcom [Perry] was very quiet and led by example. So I did take pieces of that and try to take stuff that he showed me, leadership-wise, and try to translate it to the way I lead."

Former Navy QB Malcom Perry celebrates during the 2019 Army-Navy Game

Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo is very impressed with this year's group of team captains. "The thing that I love about these young men, they embody everything that we're looking for here at the Naval Academy," he said to reporters at Navy Media Day in early August. "They're obviously really, really good football players, but they're good people. They're men of integrity and character."

At West Point, Head Coach Jeff Monken is equally happy with the Black Knights' corps of leaders, saying: "I think our players did a really good job of selecting members of our leadership council that will represent them well and do a good job with leadership."

Leading now in football--and later taking the helm as officers--falls on Coast Guard captains Adam Jabril-Barnes, Mason Schroder, Michael Palermo and Damaso Jaime.

As for Air Force, Head Coach Troy Calhoun takes a different approach. He won't announce team captains until later this season. Sometimes the Falcons use "Game Captains" and Calhoun plans to make that announcement on game day.

"Leadership can be an individual responsibility, but a collective one too, and everybody can play a part that way," Calhoun says on the subject. "I like, especially for older guys -- our seniors -- to feel like, 'Hey, here's a way where we can impact the direction of our team,' rather than just saying it's solely three or four guys that can do that."

Sports psychologists Larry Lauer and Kevin Blue say a team captain must be:

CARING: having an undeniable passion for the game, competing and teammates,

COURAGEOUS: willing to step up, "Walk the Walk" and not afraid to compete in the worst of situations, and

CONSISTENT: hold themselves to a standard of giving 100% effort, every practice and game and cannot cut corners.

Those three "Cs" will serve Service Academy football captains well now and -- in defense of our country -- later.