It seem like a perfect story for junior Jarrett Mackey as he prepared to move back to his natural position at the quick defensive end spot that had been occupied the previous two seasons by Army's all-time sack leader, Josh McNary. During McNary's tenure, Mackey's talents were to good to simply play backup and not have him on the field, especially his sophomore year. So the decision was to move him inside to defensive tackle albeit an effective, but undersized interior lineman.
In what was one of the most talented group of defensive players assembled at Army, the 2010 defenders will always be special to Mackey, as this group was the cornerstone of a team that went on to win the Armed Forces Bowl Championship versus SMU.
But 2011 would serve as an opportunity for Mackey to leave his own mark with an entirely new group of players ..... however it just didn't work out as planned.
During Army's opening game of the season against Northern Illinois on September 3rd, Mackey tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. Soon after the mainstay defender made the decision to begin his mending process .. and what better place than back home. "Once I got injured, I put in a leave, filled out all the paper work and then I left during October to go home and rehab," shares Mackey, who has since return to West Point. "I'm actually back at school now, I came back January 3rd and I'm will be a December graduate."
Mackey's return would offer up more than just a simple welcome back from coaches and teammates, but it would prove to be something larger than that as the he was decorated with the distinctive role as the 2012 Legacy Captain.
Legacy Captain Selection
Clearly, his selection as captain is impressive to say the least, with the native of Snellville (Ga.) being away from the team for the entire 2011 season. However, his reputation as a leader, as well as a ball player could not have been more validated than when his teammates extended the esteemed designation as Legacy Captain for the 2012 campaign.
"I was just as surprised as everyone else when I found out," shared Mackey, who is completely aware of how the selection process works. "I was at home and we always elect what we call the Legacy Captain, where it's one junior/upcoming senior to lead the team in the offseason. Then we elect the other 2-3 three captains during two-a-days in August."
So did soon to be senior have any idea that his name would be called?
"You get an idea who might be elected by working your way from year to year," he adds. "People start show potential, but I never thought of myself in that manner to be honest with you. And you see guys around and you say to yourself, I can see him or him as captain. Low and behold I got hurt .... so that was the last thing on my mind, becoming captain because I was going home and not worried or thinking about that."
"I guess I had enough of an impression on my teammates that they selected to become the legacy captain ... it was a good feeling," Mackey responding in both an honored and humbled tone to his new title, as he shares how he was told of his new role by Head Coach Rich Ellerson.
"I was surprised, when I came back," he declares. "We actually had a whole team meeting for the season that day at 6pm and I just return to the school.
So we met up and all of sudden I'm in there. Now I haven't seen these guys in awhile, accept I did go to the Army-Navy game and the hotel before the game to see coaches, get their spirits up and get them pumped for the game."
"So when I came back, it was about 3 1/2 months sense I had seen the whole team. I told them that I was watching the games and we joking around about them making plays and not making plays. All of a sudden Coach E (Ellerson) comes up and was joking with me about being at home. Then he goes, 'by the way, you are legacy captain'."
But the initial announcement too place after the team meeting, where the upcoming seniors remained in the room while the underclassmen departed. That is when Ellerson announced that Mackey was this year's captain and would be leading the team in the offseason, as well as the head coach also discussed the guidelines that they would be following and what is expected from the team this year. "It was a proud moment and I was blessed that I got it," states Mackey, who still is working hard to prove to himself, the coaches and teammates that he will be physically ready for the season opener.
Rehab & Return
"I most likely will not do spring ball because that would just becoming up on my sixth month from surgery and that's usually when they release people with my type of injury," he shares. "So they are making sure to keep an eye on it and so they aren't going to risk me injuring it in spring ball."
So is the ever anxious defensive end close to being fully recovered? "I'm closing in on 100% ... taking baby steps," he adds. "I'm rushing to get back onto the field, but I don't want to rush the wrong way."
Mackey, who's weight has been fluctuating between 225-235 pounds is working hard to stabilize it and get back to practice along with being in game shape. "I'm actually putting on weight because now I'm doing my leg workouts, so I'm actually putting on leg mass and now I'm starting to run," he says.
"I'm doing more running in the pool .... more low impact stuff for my knee. I do elliptical and bike, but in terms of full speed running, not yet. I'm pretty sure I can, but they just want to make sure I can. I'm capable of it, but not taking any chances to make everything is right just before I do it. I'm anxious to get back in there with the team because it's rough watching from the sidelines and you like to lead from the front."
In spite of the required time that Mackey spends in rehab, as the new captain he understands that he must make his presence felt throughout and said that he is making the effort through a difficult balance act. "So when I'm stuck in the trainer's room, I tried to get up to the weight room with the fellows, but I have to take care of priorities first and do things right so I can be out there later on with them," he declares.
The Youth Movement
Mackey realizes that 2011 was a year of transition for the Black Knights, as the team lost tons of seasoned veterans on the defensive side like Steve Anderson, Josh McNary, Donovan Travis, Mike Gann, Donnie Dixon and others. "I saw a stat during Army-Navy, where we have played something like 19 freshmen," declares the 2012 captain, who has been impressed with team's 'youth movement'. "I had chance to see things from a fans point of view by watching on TV and saw some good things.
We got LJ (Harris) at cornerback and he's doing good from what I know, what I heard and what I saw. There Geoffery Bacon, we got Larry Dixon ... he's going to be a good one, you have center Ryan Powis. Then you have the backups like Angel Santiago, he's going to be a good once Trent (Steelman) steps down after next year. I'm sure he will step in and not miss a beat in leading the offense. There are plenty of freshmen coming up but we have the sophomores like Holt Zalneraitis and he's coming strong on the D-line, we got the defensive backfield ready with guys like Holloway (Thomas)."
Mackey was quick to point out that as deep as the team is relative to it's youth movement, there is more than enough seasoned leadership to fill in the gaps.
"And then you have my class that's coming up," he adds. "We still have Trent, we got JJ (Josh Jackson), my brother (A.J. Mackey), Frank Allen and those are the dudes that I look for who will probably be captains and deserve to be so just as much as me ... they all have the qualities that you look for."
Many of the aforementioned soon to be seniors have walked the walk with Mackey since they stepped foot on the historic grounds of West Point and some as far back as their time together at the USMAPS. However, the defensive end's injury & rehab will not allow him to take that very important walk with his brothers on their last day as West Point Cadets.
Yes, it's bitter sweet, but for 2012 captain, it my not be his last call. "Since I left (2011 season) I might have an extra season," notes Mackey, as he reflects on both past and the future. "It will be cool to be with the underclassmen, but to see that class that I came in with, went to the prep school with, then the four years at West Point and see them walk on graduation day will be emotional. But, there are always positives to every negative."
"It's just like a flash since I was here as a plebe. You know the days are long, but the weeks are short. I was the plebe that like those I am trying to protect now and I remember when I was messing up the seniors use to take of me. Players like Mike Gann, Steve (Anderson) and others use to watch my back."
"Right now it's in the works. I just put in the paper work, so it will be determined if I even get it (5th year). It will be something like a medical redshirt year at a regular college. I look forward to it and when I talk to the coaches they said the same thing, that if I get it, they look forward to me coming back. I talked to my teammates and they said they would look forward to having me back. If everything works out, I'm not going to pass up the opportunity to enjoy the game that I love for one more season."
Many observers feel that the Black Knights have enough firepower offensively and a quality mixture of seasoned vets, along with a solid class of underclassmen defensively to be a Top 30 ball club. Obviously, there are many college teams that embellish those same pre-season aspirations and only time will tell.
When asked about his thoughts for the upcoming season, Mackey offered up these thoughts.
"I was just looking at the schedule yesterday, trying to look at our opponents and see what we are up against and get an upper-hand," he declares. "I see us playing pretty well because we got the offense coming back and we know sort of what everyone can do. Because when I was a freshman, I didn't get that much playing time and so they saw a glimpse of what I could do. But these freshmen have like a 100 snaps under their belt, which I only had about 15 or 20."
"So now the staff has a better idea where everyone can play and what they can do for our defense. That will only help them during spring ball. I feel that our offense is going to be killing it again as the number one rushing offense in the nation and our defense we have the talent to get back to the 2010 defense, where we were a top 25 'D'."
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