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August 15, 2012
Whittington, a senior backup cornerback and special teams player, is the 26th football player in West Point's history to hold the highest position the academy's chain of command. In civilian terms, he is the student body president for the 4,400 Cadets on campus.
"The football team is fully involved with the rest of the Cadets," said Whittington. "There is no separation. We are members of the Corps. On the back of our helmets, it says 'The Corps.' We're all one team and it's represented at every game at Michie Stadium. The 12th man is the Corps."
With the growing influence of money in college football, that's not necessarily the case these days on civilian campuses. One troubling product has been the entitled athlete. Each year there is a new example of conflict erupting between some students and football players.
This year it was Wisconsin. Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball was assaulted late at night on Aug. 1 near campus. Police are still investigating if the attack was retaliation for an earlier fight involving students and football players at a party that Ball had attended.
Last year it was LSU. Starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was one of two players arrested and suspended following a fight that took place at a bar near campus when several players were celebrating the end of fall camp.
As First Captain, also known as Brigade Commander, Whittington follows the footsteps of West Point giants: World War I General John "Black Jack" Pershing and World War II General Douglas MacArthur. Brigadier General Pete Dawkins, Army's last Heisman Trophy winner in 1958, also was a First Captain.
"It's extremely humbling just to think about everybody who has been First Captain at the academy and what they went on to do in the Army," Whittington said. "We miss some of the activities with the Corps when we're at football practice, but I try to make sure I'm a Cadet first. When I have an opportunity to be with the company and do the things we have to do, I throw myself in there."
In addition to Whittington, punter senior punter Chris Boldt was named First Regimental Commander. He leads one of the four regiments, placing him among the academy's top seven leadership positions.
Whittington's appointment marks the third straight year an Army athlete is serving one of the academy's two highest positions. The next position is Deputy Brigade Commander. Backup quarterback Max Jenkins served in the 2011-12 school year and basketball player Nathan Hedgecock in 2010-11.
"It's definitely humbling to be named First Captain considering the other Cadets that were up for the job," said Whittington, who reported for football camp on Aug. 8 and was named First Captain on Aug. 10.
This summer Whittington spent three weeks leading incoming freshmen through Cadet Basic Training as the Cadet Regimental Commander. The incoming cadets and football players alike got a glimpse of his leadership during the boot camp excercises.
Whittington, an all-district football player at El Paso (Texas) Burgess, said he was inspired to serve in the Army by his grandfather of the same name, James Brandon Whittington, although the younger Whittington goes by the middle name. James Whittington was a staff sergeant who served 24 years in the Army, including five tours in three wars. He served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was awarded a Bronze Star in Vietnam.
"He shared stories with me about the Army," Brandon said. "The things he told me sparked something in me. I've always wanted to be a part of it, and I'm glad I'm here."
Most of the stories were related to Brandon after his grandfather was severely injured in a car accident. He suffered a broken neck that was followed by a stroke and blindness. Brandon was 7 years old when he and his single mother moved in to care for him until he passed away in 2001.
"I always thought about being in the Army, but my mother didn't want me to join unless I was an officer," Whittington said. "What better place to be than West Point?"
Whittington, despite his high school success, wasn't recruited by Army, but he went through the application process to be admitted. He learned more about the U.S. Military Academy through the West Point Parents Club in El Paso, which is home to Fort Bliss.
"I got around a bunch of Cadets and alums," Whittington said. "I heard from them about the opportunities it has given them in life, and it stuck with me."
Whittington was admitted to the USMA Prep School and walked-on to earn a spot on the football team in the fall of 2008. He played in all 10 games and received an invitation from recruiting coordinator Tucker Waugh to continue his football career with Big Army, the varsity, as new head coach Rich Ellerson prepared to take over the program in 2009.
He didn't play his freshman year, but he was in four games as a sophomore and all 12 last year. The 5-foot-10, 191-pounder has been limited to special teams and hasn't yet cracked the depth chart, but he's not concerned.
"I'd like to break into the rotation at cornerback, but if I'm a special teams guy I don't have a problem with that," Whittington said. "I just want to be able to help the team. It's all about winning. If I get an opportunity at cornerback, I'll take advantage of it. If not, I'll take my reps at cornerback with a smile."
You can't campaign for playing time or prestigious positions of First Captain. You have to earn it with the full respect of your peers and superiors. Whittington's grandfather, no doubt, would be proud of his West Point career.
"Honestly, I hope so," Whittington said. "I think about it every day."