Just a month ago, Patrick Szczesniak wasn’t sure what to expect out of his sophomore year on the Army football team.
With conferences nationwide canceling and postponing their fall schedules due to the health crisis, the Black Knights’ week-to-week schedule was up in the air.
Only two games, Air Force and Navy, were guaranteed. However, a schedule came together quickly with teams that were still playing.
Szczesniak, a Mt. Carmel grad, and the Black Knights opened the season on Sept. 5 with a dominant shutout over Middle Tennessee State.
“It’s a credit to our coaches and our leaders who made sure we were doing what we needed to do so we could play,” Szczesniak said. “We were preparing every day this summer like we were going to have games. That win, we played hard and showed we’d been working.”
Szczesniak is a Beverly resident and Christ the King Elementary School graduate. He graduated from Mt. Carmel in 2019.
Szczesniak chose Army over Iowa State and Purdue.
A 6’2”, 240-pound long snapper, he’s in his sophomore year at West Point.
Army opened the topsy-turvy 2020 campaign with a 42-0 victory over Middle Tennessee State at Michie Stadium in West Point, NY.
Although fans were not in attendance, West Point’s Corps of Cadets were allowed to be at the game, providing a raucous home-field advantage for the Black Knights. Szczesniak dressed but did not play against Middle Tennessee.
Army went up 21-0 at halftime and never looked back.
“It was like we were playing in front of a packed house,” Szczesniak said. “They were loud the whole game and excited to be there. It was awesome to get to play in front of the Corps. We’d been working toward this. We were ready to come out fast and ready to play.”
Army hosted Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 12, winning 37-7 in the nonconference home game to improve to 2-0.
Army’s home game against Brigham Young on Sept. 19 has been postponed, reportedly because there were positive COVID-19 tests in the BYU football program.
Now in his second year at West Point, Szczesniak continues to find his groove at the military academy.
He dressed for one game last year, a blowout win over Morgan State, as a freshman. Army does not grant redshirt exceptions unless a player is injured.
“You’re really busy, but it’s been awesome. Time flies when you’re having fun,” Szczesniak said. “Going to classes and the academic challenge, then you come out for football, lifting and practice and head back to your room. It’s tough. It’s a challenge, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. If you don’t challenge yourself, you’ll never grow.”
A highlight from his freshman season was a game that Szczesniak had long looked forward to, the annual Civil War game between Army and Navy.
Army lost 31-7, finishing the season 5-8 overall, but it was definitely a game to remember.
“It was a surreal feeling being able to experience that game,” Szczesniak said. “To be on the sidelines for that game, it was a proud feeling, for the country, for the academies, just an unbelievable feeling to be there and watch the game.”
All the cadets, including Szczesniak and his football teammates, were sent home from West Point this spring due to the coronavirus, and Szczesniak returned to Chicago. He headed back to West Point this summer, working out with his Black Knights’ teammates.
There were some concerns about coming back and playing football amidst the pandemic, but Szczesniak felt confident that Army did things the right way, including wearing masks at practice this summer.
The potential to bring back college football, including being part of a busy opening weekend, was a proud moment for the Knights.
“Yeah, there was some safety concern with the coronavirus,” Szczesniak said. “We were excited to get back though, even if we were only going to play the academies. We were locked in. It was cool to be one of the first FBS games back.”
The goal is simple for 2020: just keep winning.
“We want to keep winning as a team. For myself, I’m going to do my job, fit in and help the team be a better team,” Szczesniak said. “Oh, and we want to beat Navy.”