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Cody Winokur’s journey back to Army football

Photo by Sal Interdonato/Black Knight Nation

On the eve of every Army football game, players cast an important vote in the team’s hotel.

They nominate a teammate to carry the Black Flag as Army takes the field prior to kickoff. The Black Flag stands for toughness, tenacity, camaraderie and accountability, per Army’s athletic website.

The team picked defensive lineman Cody Winokur for the honor before last Saturday’s game against Delaware State.

“Having my peers and brothers chose me to carry out that Black Flag onto the field, it means so much to this brotherhood, this program and what it stands for,” Winokur said. “and all of the people that came before us and will come after us. It’s really a true honor to carry that out.”

There’s a feel-good story behind Winokur’s selection. Saturday was the first time in almost three years that Winokur strapped on a helmet and ran out on gameday.

Winokur’s last college game was the 2020 Liberty Bowl where he was a backup guard. Winokur had to leave the academy later due to an academic issue and was presented a unique opportunity to serve active duty in the Army with the possibility of returning to West Point. After about eight months of waiting for his paperwork to be completed, Winokur started as a private at Fort Drum.

“One of the things you learn going through all of that is that it’s better to prepare not plan,” Winokur said.

Winokur said he was transparent about his situation when serving in the Charlie Battery 2-15 Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Drum. The fellow soldiers were receptive to his opportunity, he said. Winokur ran into former football teammates and lieutenants Chris Cameron and Nick Stokes.  

“It was an interesting dynamic,” Winokur said. “They are officers and I’m walking around as Private First Class and Specialist Sergeant Winokur all the way through.”

The opportunity to serve provided Winokur with a second chance. It also was a chance to soak up training and knowledge.

“I saw it as an incredible opportunity to maximize my learning and be a sponge,” Winokur said. “Be the dude that I’m going to be leading in a couple of years after I graduate and commission. I went through air assault and got my expert badge, Combat Life Saver and all that cool stuff.”

After about a year of serving and completing his requirements, Winokur returned to West Point as a cadet in January this year.  He met with head coach Jeff Monken to discuss his future. Monken asked Winokur what he wanted to do.

His answer: “I want to help this team.”

Winokur added, “I didn’t have to come back to school but I knew it in my heart I didn’t see myself as anything other than a West Point graduate and an Army football player.”

Weighing 245-250 pounds at the time, offensive line was not the perfect fit as the new shotgun offense required 300-pounders up front. Winokur briefly played tight end but that only lasted a week.

“I started running pass routes and I said, ‘I can’t do this,’” Winokur said.

Winokur spoke with defensive coordinator Nate Woody about a switch the defensive line in the spring. That’s where Winokur has remained.

There would be one last hurdle – eligibility. The NCAA declared Winokur ineligible a few days before Army’s opener at Louisiana-Monroe “for the reasons why I was gone,” he said.

As Winokur waited for the NCAA approval on a waiver, he helped his teammates get better by playing on the scout team the week of the Louisiana-Monroe and the start of Delaware State week.

“It’s incredible the maturity and the growth a guy makes as they go through their experience here,” Monken said of Winokur at his postgame press conference Saturday. Army intended to take Winokur on the Louisiana-Monroe trip if he was eligible. “He’s an aggressive leader and a tough kid. I’m really proud of him. He’s a favorite of his teammates.”

Winokur regained his eligibility Friday before his teammates bestowed the honor of Black Flag. He played two defensive snaps in the 57-0 win. More importantly, Winokur was back playing the game he loves. He was back in the brotherhood.

“I knew that I would make it back and I knew the steps and the process that it would take,” Winokur said. “When I went out there, it was pretty surreal but in my mind, I made it back. I did this. I knew I could do it and I’m onto the next step.

“I was happy to have my family there and able to give them that opportunity to see me play because when I left school, I felt like I robbed them of the opportunity to see their son play college with all my friends and family back home. It was good to get out there and make them proud.”

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