WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Jeff Monken looked around Foley Athletic Center, his Army Black Knights sitting quietly on the indoor turf after one of their final practices before Saturday's big game against Navy.
''Be excited for the chance to prove yourselves,'' Monken said in a firm but calm voice. ''I know we're going to win.''
Recent history indicates that's going to be a stiff challenge. Navy (9-2) is ranked No. 21, has won the past 13 games between the archrivals, and is an overwhelming favorite to beat Army (2-9).
9-2 vs. 2-9. 22-point underdog.
Seems like a sizable mismatch on paper.
Not in minds of the Black Knights, who have come tantalizingly close to winning in three of the past four meetings with Navy: 27-21 in 2011, 17-13 the next year, and 17-10 last December.
''I know nobody gives us a chance, but our guys believe in each other,'' said Monken, a former assistant at Navy. ''I believe in this team. We've come close enough in enough ballgames this year. We're probably a much better football team than 2-9, but we're 2-9 and that's where it stands.
''But in this game and this rivalry, it's a game in itself. I don't think that (the record) much matters.''
What does matter these days at West Point is what the players say Monken has accomplished in two seasons at the helm. His first team won four games and, though the record in 2015 is worse, morale remains high for a team that has had only one winning season since the 1996 squad won a school-record 10 games under Bob Sutton.
Perhaps that's because several of the losses this fall - six by a combined 26 points - easily could have been wins for a team that had more than 70 freshmen on the preseason roster.
''He (Monken) has done a great job,''said junior linebacker Jeremy Timpf, who last year had 102 tackles and already is one of just 34 players in academy history with over 200 tackles. ''There's a lot of discipline being instilled in us. All the guys have bought into his philosophy and his goals and his plan.''
Guys like senior Kelvin White, a 6-foot-3, 258-pound tight end and former quarterback who, like his teammates, thinks about the Navy game every week of the season.
''I wanted to change the culture a little bit,'' White said. ''Maybe our record hasn't showed it, but we have a lot of things that coach Monken has instilled in us. I think that's going to help us a lot going forward. He came in and had to be really hands-on with the last class because he had to set the culture that he wanted.
''With our class, 2-9 isn't a winning culture, but we do things that championship teams do,'' White said without elaborating. ''Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get the results that we want, but Rome wasn't built in a night. We just have to keep building on what we have.''
That low-key approach Monken used in addressing the team on Tuesday night isn't commonplace. How could it be when former fullback Mike Viti is now on the staff? Viti, who was regimental commander and team captain his senior year (2008) and served combat duty in Afghanistan after graduation, completed a 4,414-mile trek right before the Army-Navy game in Baltimore a year ago to stress awareness for America's fallen soldiers in war since 9/11.
In other words, intensity is always up.
''Coach Viti might be the most intense person I've ever met,'' White said. ''When you see him out here, your switch is immediately on. Coach Monken did a great job of bringing people in. They have the energy up, the juice level high, and that's something that's going to help us in the future.''
And allow the current players to dare to dream about that next victory over Navy.
''It would be everything,'' White said. ''I was in a starting role last year and we couldn't get it done. It'll help to end my career on a high note, and that's what I plan on doing, and not necessarily just for me, not even just for the seniors. This is way bigger than us.
''We have all these young guys who are here who contribute. Getting a win for them would just drastically change how the whole season went,'' White said. ''It wouldn't be that they think that they've made it, but it would be that we were good enough to win and we can beat Navy, who everyone's talking about. When we do that, it'll definitely change some things around here.''
The 13-game run by Navy is the longest in the history of a series that began in 1890. Before the Midshipmen went on their unprecedented streak, neither team in this storied rivalry had won more than five in a row.
Navy leads the series 59-49-7. Timpf is ready to hand the Middies loss No. 50.
''We could stop all the talk, really propel us into next season,'' he said. ''I mean, it would just get everybody on our side. We can really turn this program around. We're trying to leave a legacy with this team.''
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg is Baltimore contributed to this report.
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