How a Military Prep School Helped Army Improve in Football

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WEST POINT, N.Y. — Kelvin Hopkins Jr., the youngest of three children raised by a single parent, was a mama’s boy who was hesitant to move far from home when he graduated high school in Charlotte, N.C. He did not know much about the military life, either, and his test scores were “not ideal.”All this made Hopkins a risky candidate for the United States Military Academy, which is charged with generating future Army officers. But it did make Hopkins, a charismatic leader with an admirable work ethic — and a sharp passing arm — an ideal prospect for the academy’s prep school.Now, four years later, the bet West Point made on Hopkins looks like a good one. He is nearing a degree in philosophy, relishes training to become an officer and, not insignificantly, has become a star quarterback and a centerpiece of Army’s continuing football renaissance.The Black Knights, who had one winning season in 17 years before Jeff Monken was hired as coach in December 2013, have been on an upward trajectory since. They are coming off three consecutive bowl victories and a school-record 11 wins last season, and came within a whisker of their biggest victory in half a century in Saturday’s 24-21 double-overtime loss at then-No. 7 Michigan.Army’s revival is in no small part due to players like Hopkins, who have arrived in recent years under a slight loosening of academic requirements and used their year at the prep school to get acclimated to the military academy’s unique atmosphere.ImageHopkins played against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday. He had more than 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing last season, with 23 total touchdowns.CreditPaul Sancya/Associated Press“Rather than trying to squeeze me in at the academy and watching me fail or struggle, it was, ‘Here’s an opportunity for you to understand how the academy works, get a nice baseline of how academics and things like that work,’” Hopkins said after a recent practice. “It was a period where I got to test the waters.”Hopkins is not an outlier. More than 60 percent of Army’s roster this year — and 14 of 22 starters in the loss to Michigan — spent a year at the United States Military Academy Prep School, known by its acronym, USMAPS. The mean SAT score for this year’s class at the prep school was about 130 points lower than that of the cadets who were admitted directly to the academy, the school said (incoming West Point freshmen had a mean SAT score of 1286).Long ago, the three major service academies — Navy, Air Force and Army — formed pr

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