A father is the first person his son looks up to. He sets the example for how a man should act and carry himself, causing his son to emulate everything he does. This paternal bond is perhaps most evident when a boy begins to play sports. From teaching you how to shoot a basketball to throwing a perfect spiral, a father is defaulted as your first coach.
For Army West Point Sprint Football firstie quarterback Keegan West and his father, Mark West, this relationship has persisted through the collegiate level as the two have enjoyed sharing the sideline for the past four years. Mark was a quarterback for the sprint football team during his time as a cadet and has served as the team’s head coach for 10 seasons, which included instructing his son for the last four years.
Keegan always knew that West Point was a viable option for college. Heck, with the strong ties the Academy has sown in his family tree, it was impossible to miss. In total, eight members of his family have attended the Academy: grandfather Lt. Col. (Ret.) Gus Fishburne (’62), mother Col. Holly West (nee Fishburne) (’91), father Lt. Col. (Ret.) Mark West (’91), uncle Capt. E.G. Fishburne (’94), cousin 1st Lt. Allie Lycan (’15), cousin 2nd Lt. Cooper Lycan (’17), Keegan (’19) and sister Lexi West (’21). To put it simply, West Point is part of Keegan’s DNA.
“West Point was always right there,” Keegan said. “I had always said that this was a place I wanted to consider going to. I knew that West Point was one of those places where, if you get an opportunity to come here, it’s hard to pass up.”
Both Mark and Holly excelled athletically during their time as cadets. Mark was on the Division I football team as a plebe before transitioning to the star quarterback of the sprint football team for his final three years at the Academy. Holly is one of the all-time great athletes to come through the women’s soccer program and still ranks in the top-10 in career points, goals and game-winning goals.
However, none of that mattered when it came time for Keegan to start looking at colleges. If he was going to follow their example, it would be because of the character traits they inherited from their 47-month experience as cadets rather than their legacies on the field. It wasn’t until he began his own journey at West Point that he really looked at the fact that he was playing the same position on the same team as his father and that his mom was a standout soccer player.
“We really tried to step back and let them make their own decisions on where they wanted to go to college, and they ended up choosing West Point,” Mark said about his kids. “We didn’t put any pressure on them to come here because I think they probably felt enough of that on their own.
“When Keegan decided to come here to play sprint, I was really happy. I was thinking to myself ‘Wow! How often do dads get to coach their sons at the collegiate level?’ It’s pretty rare. So, I thought to myself that this was going to be a lot of fun. Once he got here it was pretty cool getting to see my son every day.”
The Wests are not the first father-son tandem at West Point when it comes to football. Bob Blaik, son of Hall of Fame football coach Earl “Red” Blaik, played quarterback for his dad in the late ’40s and early ’50s.
Like many of those who accept the challenges West Point poses, Keegan needed some time to acclimate himself with life as a cadet. Despite attending the prep school for a year after graduating from James I. O’Neill High School just 10 minutes down the road, Keegan still struggled at times to adjust with academics, military life and the demands of being a first-year football player at the collegiate level.
Fortunately for Keegan he was able to lean on his family, not only for advice on how to handle all the rigors of West Point, but just to have as a release and escape from it all.
“When you think about it, it makes you admire all the other kids that come here without their families even more,” Keegan said. “I think it would’ve been easy to fold for a lot of kids my plebe year, especially when you don’t have the supporting cast like I did. From the get-go, it was a chance for me to step away from everything, breathe and come back to my normal comfort level. With both of my parents being grads, having their support over this ride and the support of my siblings as well, has just been such a breath of fresh air over this four-year process.”
Even when he wasn’t at home, Keegan was able to spend plenty of time with his father – at sprint football. Whether it was at Shea Stadium for practices and games, in the weight room or in his father’s office to review film, Keegan never took for granted that time he was able to spend with his dad. He was doing what he loved with someone he loved and someone who shared that same passion for the game.
After persevering through his plebe year, Keegan earned an increase in his snap count over each of the next three seasons. He split the snaps pretty evenly as a sophomore with classmate Brady Miller before emerging as the clear-cut starter in 2017.
With the job secured as a senior, Keegan flourished in Army’s offense. The West Point, N.Y., native threw for 1,926 yards on 163-of-267 passes and 21 touchdowns, all of which are season highs in his father’s coaching tenure. For his career, Keegan completed 355-of-582 passes (.610 pct.), while adding 4,627 passing yards and 52 touchdowns.
“He really exceeded everyone’s expectations this year,” Mark said. “We always felt that he could run this offense very well, but he just seemed to have a comfort level that I’m not sure if I’ve ever had another quarterback who has felt that comfortable running this offense. A lot of that has to do with Coach (Donny) Walker, our offensive coordinator. He’s certainly instilled in Keegan to be confident and go out knowing that when you step on the field you’re one of the best ones out there. It’s been fun to watch, not just from a head coaching perspective, but as his dad on the sideline getting to watch him develop every day. It’s been pretty neat.”
As neat as it was for Mark, Keegan recognized the privilege it was to play for his father as well.
“It’s been an honor to play for him,” Keegan added. “Aside from him being my dad, you can ask anyone in our program whether it’s current players or alumni, and he’s seen as one of the legends who has come through this program with the things he was able to do on the field. There was never a means of me trying to emulate that, and I never really thought I had to do all this stuff and play at a certain level to try to make up for what he did. It was more so just the way our family works. We just want to win. That’s just the value that both of us were raised by. That’s the legacy I’d like to leave behind – that we were both winners in our time here.”
As exceptional as it has been to watch Keegan’s progression both as a cadet and a football player from up-close, Mark has gone out of his way to make sure he doesn’t show his son any preferential treatment.
“All of the guys on my team, to be honest, are all my sons,” Mark said. “I do my very best to treat them all the same. I love every one of them. There was no special treatment for Keegan. He had to meet the same standards and expectations as everyone else. And when he didn’t, he felt the same consequences as everybody else did. I’ve always tried to be very careful about that. That’s the beauty of this team. I think we have such a strong brotherhood among all the players that it hasn’t ever affected our team.”
As a team, the Black Knights have compiled an impressive 26-3 record over the last four seasons, including three Star Game victories over service-academy rival Navy, two undefeated seasons and two Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) titles. The West Point sprint football class of 2019 will graduate tied for the second-most wins in program history and the ninth class to claim three Star Game wins over the Midshipmen.
Keegan has certainly paved his own path and has emerged from the shadow of expectation his parents set from their time here. Specifically, the shadow of playing for his father at the exact position he did at the same institution. He will even branch Armor like Mark did in the spring after opening his envelope on Branch Night back in November. But filling his father’s shoes was never a concern of his. He wanted to go through West Point and create his own memories.
“I see it as coming full circle in a sense,” Keegan said. “I’ve played a lot of football over the course of my career. I’ve played in a lot of big games based on the teams and coaches that I’ve had, so I’ve really gotten that full experience. Coming to the end of this season with him at the helm, the success our team has had overall and the things we’ve been able to do over my time here, has really just been everything I could’ve dreamt of.”
Whether it’s playing in the Super Bowl or playing sprint football, Keegan has loved playing the game of football for the last decade, and, although his career has come to an end, he couldn’t have scripted a better way to close this chapter of his life than walking off the field with his father one last time.