“Do right, do your best, and show people you care.”
From the moment head coach Jeff Monken first issued that mantra to Cole Christiansen and the other plebes entering the Army West Point football program, the Week 10 Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week adopted those guiding principles as his own.
“I always try to live by those three principles,” the senior (or ‘firstie,’ in Army-speak) recently told Ronnie Lott. “I always want to be the hardest worker in the room. I always want to be a person that people can say, ‘You know what? That guy’s a role model. He’s an example. I want to do things like him. He does things the right way. He’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for everyone around him’.”
As a two-time team captain it seems his fellow Black Knights see Christiansen in exactly that way. The linebacker named his teammates first when asked what (or rather, who) motivated him to be great, before going on to name “my institution, and my family, and all the people that I came to West Point for.”
Christiansen had offers to play football at several universities, including an Ivy League institution, but he said he knew he “would regret it forever” if he went anywhere other than West Point.
“At the end of the day, what I want to do is serve my country and lead soldiers in combat,” said Christiansen. “It’s going to be the greatest privilege in my life to be able to have the opportunity to do that.”
Lott is no stranger to that privilege. His own father served in the U.S. Air Force, and Lott told the cadet that his father’s career gave him a craving to lead, something he pursued as an athlete. Lott challenged Christiansen to explain what made him the right person for the job of leading men into combat on the battlefield (and the football field).
“I’ve had so many great opportunities to practice my leadership and grow as a leader since I’ve been here. That’s what West Point does and that’s what it’s for; you get an education, but at the end of the day they’re training you to be a leader,” said Christiansen.
He admitted that of all those leadership opportunities, the one he’s gained the most from is playing football for the Black Knights. “I’ve learned how to speak in front of people and how to interact, and connect, and be a friend, and a teammate, but also to be an enforcer and a guy who can maintain a standard,” he explained.
Christiansen also cited annual summer military training as a fertile leadership training ground. Last summer the cadet led a company of 180 people.
“I learned so much from that experience: what makes people tick, and that you have to treat every single person differently, understand where they’re coming from, and [that] not every person responds the same way to the same type of leadership, so you have to be able to morph yourself and change yourself to create a successful environment and successful organization.”
As the two delved into the nuances of leadership and Christiansen’s military preparation, it was easy to forget the call was initially to congratulate the linebacker for his 16 tackle performance against the Air Force Falcons. His average of 9.9 tackles per game through nine games this season has been impossible to ignore and puts him within the top 20 in the FBS. He’s been recognized as a candidate for Player of the Week several times this season, finally securing the title in Week 10.
The culture of service cultivated at The Academy shone through when Christiansen discussed the honor. “I like to think that everything I do is projected outward and I never like to have things pointed at me,” he told Lott. “This award is a pretty special thing and I’m honored to even be considered for it, but I’m more happy to be a part of it just to say that my team’s being recognized as having a person that is being considered for an award like this.”
Lott admitted he was “very moved” by all that Christiansen had shared with him.
The senior linebacker has at least another four games ahead of him. Then it’s one more semester at The Academy before graduating and being assigned his platoon, a moment he expressed great excitement about. Those servicemen and women will be fortunate to have future second lieutenant Cole Christiansen as their lead.
The Black Knights host the UMass Minutemen on Saturday at 9:00 am PST.
Press play to listen to the full conversation between Ronnie Lott and Cole Christiansen.