as First Captain of the United States Corps of Cadets reminds us what
we already knew: The Cadets and football players have a special bond as
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.
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of us feel entitled ... We all feel our overall
purpose of being here is our development into becoming Army officers.
- First Captain of the USMA & Defensive Back, Brandon
of us feel entitled ... We all feel our overall
purpose of being here is our development into becoming Army officers."
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
In addition to Whittington,
was named First Regimental Commander. He leads one of the four
regiments, placing him among the academy's top seven leadership
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
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."