WEST POINT – Brandon Jackson and Andrew King grew up a couple blocks from each other in Queens. But the Army football players never met on the field. Jackson starred at Holy Cross High School, a private school. King for Flushing, a public school.
West Point brought them together.
Early Sunday morning, on a strip of road in Croton, Westchester County, Jackson's car hit a guardrail shortly before 2 a.m. and he died. Just 20 years old and a standout sophomore cornerback, Jackson left behind a second family, his Army family of schoolmates and teammates alike.
Jackson and King, a couple New Yorkers, had an instant connection. It was almost as if they had played football together forever. Jackson started in Army’s third game of 2015 and followed the lead of King, then Army’s junior middle linebacker. They became Army’s top tacklers.
“He had this competitive edge that was unmatched,” said King, a senior captain, after practice on Wednesday. “No matter what, he was going to go out there and compete. It could be the best wide receiver. It could be a scout-team player. He was going out there competing every day.”
King and teammates continue to practice through a tough week. Hours after helping Army beat Rice to go to 2-0 for the first time since 1996, Jackson headed home to catch the Holy Cross-St. Francis Prep game on Sunday.
"Brandon was going to be there (at the Holy Cross-St. Francis game)," said Tom Pugh, Jackson's coach at Holy Cross. "That’s why he was coming down."
Services for Jackson will be held Monday at Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, Pugh said. The Holy Cross football team will attend Jackson’s viewing, Pugh said.
"He’s part of our structure," said Pugh, who coached the program for 41 years. "He was one of our stars."
Back at Army, captain Jeremy Timpf was in shock when the team was told the news of Jackson’s passing Sunday. He went into his room in the barracks and collected his thoughts.
“It didn't really hit me until later,” Timpf said. “I remember being in my room and I broke down big time. I know a lot of guys are really close friends with Brandon. It's good for them to let it out. There's a time to mourn and we definitely did that a lot this week.”
Timpf added, “He was a great guy, a friend, a teammate, a brother. There are not enough words to explain how great of a guy Brandon was. It's hurting everybody.”
King continued to mention Army’s brotherhood multiple times during his meeting with the media. “It's tough losing someone you really love and care about,” King said. “But we are trying to honor Brandon in our preparation and the way that we play. We've been fighting for each other all season, and we will continue to fight for each other and continue to make Brandon proud.”
King, Timpf and Army look to continue their run on Saturday night at UTEP.
“We just want to honor him, and we are going to play for Brandon this season,” Timpf said. “I haven't talked to the guys about dedicating the season, but we are definitely playing the season for Brandon. That's for sure.”