One of Army’s starting linebackers wears a jersey number better suited for a defensive back.

Alex Aukerman didn’t feel it necessary to change a winning combination.

Recruited as a safety, Aukerman moved to outside linebacker as a freshman at West Point and later to middle linebacker. The Center Grove graduate enters his senior season as one of the Black Knights’ statistical and emotional leaders on defense.

Aukerman will still be wearing No. 21 when Army opens its season Sept. 1 at home against Fordham.

“These first three years have flown by. It seems like high school was yesterday,” Aukerman said. “Being here has definitely been more than I expected, especially from the football side of it.”

Aukerman, now 260 pounds — 55 heavier than his senior season in high school — made 59 tackles last season. The Black Knights snapped a string of 14 straight losses to Navy and made a bowl appearance for only the second time since 1996 under head coach Jeff Monken.

Army’s record of 8-5 was the program’s best since going 10-2 in 1996.

Aukerman is one of five current Black Knights from an Indiana high school program, and he is the team’s top returning tackler. Linebackers Jeremy Timpf (112 tackles) and Andrew King (97) were seniors last season, when Aukerman recorded a team-best 7.5 sacks.

“Alex has progressed really well,” fourth-year Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said. “He’s become one of the better players we have had here and a really important player on the field and in the locker room.

“We are excited to see him have a great year.”

At Center Grove, Aukerman earned three varsity letters (2011-13). The Trojans won 32 of 41 games and advanced to three consecutive semistates.

On Aug. 12, 2013, he committed to attend the United States Military Academy and play football for the Black Knights. Utilized mainly on special teams as a freshman at Army, Aukerman broke through with 35 tackles the following season.

This season, the Black Knight face road tests at Ohio State (Sept. 16), Tulane (Sept. 23), Rice (Oct. 7), Air Force (Nov. 4) and North Texas (Nov. 18). Aukerman’s final regular-season game is against Navy on Dec. 9 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Aukerman begins five years of active military duty following the 2017-18 school year.

Visits home to see family and friends have been limited to Thanksgiving, Christmas, a few days in May and time around the July 4 holiday, but Aukerman has made the most of them.

He sat in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium to watch Center Grove play in the past two 6A title games; last month he became engaged to Erica McGraw, his girlfriend since the two were in middle school.

“Obviously, this whole West Point experience would be easier if it was in Indianapolis or something like that,” Aukerman said with a laugh. “But it’s been fun to be part of this culture turnaround at Army. It’s coach Monken and just getting all the guys to buy in.”

Army football hasn’t finished above .500 in consecutive seasons since former Purdue coach Jim Young led it to 6-5 marks in 1989 and 1990.

At West Point, on a campus with no shortage of history, the Black Knights’ No. 21 can’t wait to help make some of his own.

The Aukerman file

Name: Alex Aukerman

Family: Parents Lance and Marcie; sister Holyn

Position: Linebacker

Size: 6-2, 260 pounds

High school: Center Grove (2014)

College: U.S. Military Academy (2018)

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.