The second Saturday in December is likely to be associated more with the chaos of the Christmas shopping season – unless there is an area team still playing in the high school playoffs.
But few probably realized what it meant in Keller. As Army and Navy renewed their historic rivalry for the 116th time at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial field on Saturday, America’s Game involved one of Northeast Tarrant County’s own in Navy sophomore outside linebacker/rover Brandon Jones.
Jones is now in his third season at the United States Naval Academy. He’s a backup. He spent 2013-2014 at the prep school before moving up to the academy last year.
Each year, it’s likely he can appreciate what it means to be involved in a game where everybody playing in it is willing to die for everybody watching it. But as any member of these service academies or branches of the armed services will tell you, he or she is just doing the job.
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Jones’ role with the Midshipmen has grown this year. He’s played in 10 games and made 18 tackles. No. 21 Navy (10-2) won Commander in Chief’s trophy again and will play Pittsburgh Dec. 28 in the Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman at Jack Stephens Field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
If you don’t know much about the Army-Navy game, you need to take the time to learn about it. The game is the excuse for a nation to come together. This is the purest game still to be played at the college level. Without question, the rivalry is intense. These two sides want to beat the other so badly, they can taste it. Navy has had the better of it, winning the last 14.
Yet they are brothers. They are ultimately involved in a cause greater than their own interests. The reason this game matters more than any other is because of what happens before and what happens after. Within 90 minutes of the kickoff, the core of Cadets and the brigade of Midshipmen march into the stadium and are presented on the playing field before they move into their seats. That’s the entire student body of each academy.
Following the game, the two teams will walk in unison to each other’s side and stand attentively for the playing of each alma mater. The losing team plays first.
So as these moments and this game unfolded, I thought about Jones and what went through his mind. Sure, he played to win the game. But on the other sideline, he saw comrades whom he will stand next to soon enough, whenever and wherever the United States needs him.
At the time that he went to Navy, our publication likely made only a mention of this on National Signing Day 2013.
In reality, we gave more mention to Colleyville Heritage quarterback Cody Thomas and Carroll quarterback Kenny Hill. Those were highly rated prospects. Thomas went to sign with Oklahoma. Hill signed with Texas A&M and has since transferred to TCU.
Jones is three years into a life-changing decision that could take him anywhere after his playing days have finished. It takes uncommon wisdom and extreme humility to commit to an academy. The consequences beyond graduation could vary. Either way, Jones will have a five-year commitment in some capacity with the Navy.
Army-Navy has touched our area on several occasions. The first connection I had was when Hurst L.D. Bell’s Trip Bellard went to West Point in the mid-1990s. He graduated in 1999 and then was involved in the war on terror.
For young men like Jones to have the opportunity to attend one of these academies and respond willingly to the demands is testament to the kind of person he is. When it would have been convenient to say no, he said yes.
All we can do is say thank you.