Growing up on a horse farm in Suffolk, Va., Cole Christiansen never thought about continuing his football career and his education after high school at a service academy.

Once he received interest from Army, however, he made sure he did his homework to see if it was the right fit for him.

“After I researched West Point, I knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t come here,” said Christiansen, a senior linebacker and second-year team captain who will play his last game for the Black Knights on Saturday against Navy at Lincoln Financial Field in the 120th game of the rivalry.

“I visited West Point three times, and I committed after the third time. I wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself into, so I was asking everyone every question. My mom made a list of 120 questions — I kid you not — and said, ‘I want every one of these questions answered.’ And they did. They told me exactly what I was getting myself into. Once I gathered all that data, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

The grandson of a 32-year Air Force veteran, Christiansen has found academy life gratifying on several levels, not only on the football field, where he leads the Black Knights in tackles for the second straight year, but also in his personal development and maturity. He will enter the field artillery branch of the Army upon graduation.

“I think I’m a totally different person than I was when I got here,” he said at last week’s Army-Navy luncheon. “I think I was immature when I was in high school and now the adversity I’ve gone through as a cadet and the time with the guys I’ve been around, it’s really just molded me into a better person.

“It’s been the most rewarding experience I think I could ever have gotten. I haven’t regretted it for a second. I feel ready to lead soldiers in combat right now and I wouldn’t have been able to say that four years ago.”

“I visited West Point three times, and I committed after the third time. I wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself into, so I was asking everyone every question.”

Cole Christiansen

Army coach Jeff Monken also has seen Christiansen’s growth, particularly his leadership.

“He’s been a very productive player, made a lot of tackles for us, made a lot of plays,” Monken said. “He’s tough and cares deeply about this team and this program. He works really hard to be a leader for our defense. He’s a great kid, a tremendous cadet. He’ll be an incredible Army officer, and I’m glad we’ve had him on our team. He’s helped us win a lot of football games.”

With the help of Christiansen and his fellow seniors, the Black Knights own 34 wins since the start of the 2016 season, the most in a four-year span since the legendary class of 1946 went 34-2-2 with national championships in 1944 and 1945.

Of course, this year’s 5-7 mark has not lived up to the team’s expectations, but Christiansen said the resiliency his teammates have shown in the wake of injuries has made him proud.

And there is the simple matter Saturday of his class finishing a 4-0 sweep of Navy, something Army hasn’t achieved since 1996. Christiansen said he’d like to do it for the Corps of Cadets past and present.

“It means everything to us,” he said, “especially the senior class, because the fraternity of guys that can say they’ve gone 4-0 against Navy is pretty slim. It would really mean the world to us to be able to say we were a part of that group.

“We’re going to throw the whole kitchen sink at Navy on Saturday.”