Alex Aukerman is dedicating this weekend to becoming better acclimated with no less than the next five years of his life.
Visiting West Point, N.Y., allows the Center Grove senior ample opportunity to soak up as much military culture and history as possible — to see what’s in store for him, even if this version isn’t nearly as intense as what lies ahead.
Having committed to the U.S. Military Academy on Aug. 12, Aukerman, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound strong safety, will play football for Army.
He reports to West Point on July 1 to begin six-and-a-half weeks of basic training. Then it’s becoming immersed in all things Black Knights’ football, with the 2014 season-opener scheduled for Sept. 6 against Buffalo.
As if this didn’t provide enough immediate change in a young man’s life, consider Army’s second game necessitates a cross-country flight to Stanford to play the Cardinal, Rose Bowl participants in 2013 and 2014.
“I’m really anxious. I don’t know what to expect,” said Aukerman, whose only other West Point experience took place in July as a participant in the Black Knight football camp. “After basic training I’ll go straight into football, and my major will be either economics or psychology.
“Those are two classes I enjoy and do well at.”
Pinpointing an area in which Aukerman doesn’t excel can be an exercise in futility. Possessor of a
3.9 GPA on a 4.0 scale, Aukerman’s physical attributes, smarts and gridiron savvy allowed him to record 77 tackles last fall for the Class 6A Trojans,
who have made three consecutive semistate appearances.
Aukerman also returned punts and an occasional kickoff and even snagged one 16-yard reception in the 14-13 victory over Pike in Week 4.
Penn, Holy Cross and Harvard also offered Aukerman scholarships. Indiana University entered the picture late, but he wasn’t swayed.
For those who know Aukerman best, the senior’s decision to attend West Point, and possibly make a career of the military, fits as snugly as the No. 26 Center Grove helmet he used to wear roaming the defensive secondary.
“One, Alex is an awesome student. Two, he’s an extremely good athlete, and three, he’s a good officer candidate,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “Everything Alex does, he wants to be the best. In today’s new Army, I can see people just respecting him.
“Alex isn’t a vocal person, but he has unbelievable character, and, obviously, his parents have done a great job.”
Aukerman’s weekend to-do list in West Point — located an hour’s drive north of New York City — includes meeting new Black Knights head coach Jeff Monken, touring the grounds and more.
The itinerary at some point also places Aukerman at a shooting range to work with a qualified instructor.
“I have never shot a gun before, and I’m jumping right into M4s and machine guns,” Aukerman said, laughing. “I’ve been looking into (West Point) online, but going through it in person will give me a whole different view.”
That view includes finally shaking hands with the 46-year-old Monken, a former Navy assistant coach who from 2010-2013 led Georgia Southern to a 38-16 record.
A staunch proponent of the triple-option offense, Monken succeeds former Army coach Rich Ellerson, who was fired on Dec. 15 after posting a 20-41 record in five seasons. The Black Knights went 0-5 against archrival Navy during Ellerson’s tenure and were outscored by a total of 126-61.
Army’s overall losing streak to the Midshipmen is now at 12, a run which includes the best efforts of five different Black Knights head coaches.
The change at the top of Army football, an entity dating back to 1890 and encompassing 1,147 games, didn’t give Aukerman second thoughts about his decision.
“Not really,” he said. “I think the change actually made me more excited to go there.”