Distractions abound as Navy seeks to rebound from losing season
By Gene Wang,
Each season before the start of training camp, the Navy football team compiles a checklist of what it wants to accomplish, and rarely do the top three priorities deviate from beating Army, winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and qualifying for a bowl game.
This year, managing distractions has pushed its way onto the ledger in light of recent developments involving two seniors stripped of their captaincy and a handful of other players who won’t be in camp for at least several more weeks.
Throw in a trip to Dublin to play Notre Dame in the season opener on Sept. 1 and traveling to Penn State two weeks later for the second game of the season, and the atmosphere in camp hasn’t been exactly routine, especially given that the Midshipmen are coming off a 5-7 season, their first losing campaign in a decade.
“You try your best to move forward, but I have nightmares,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said Saturday during media day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. “I can see plays clearly in my mind, and I look at myself. What can I do better as a coach to make sure that doesn’t happen again?”
Navy lost five games last season by a combined 11 points, including 35-34 to Air Force. So distraught was then-senior captain Alex Teich over the outcome that he left the field without standing for the Air Force song, prompting Niumatalolo to sit him out the next week in a 63-35 loss to Southern Miss.
In February, linebacker Brye French and slotback Bo Snelson were voted captains, but subsequent off-field incidents compelled academy officials to remove their formal leadership roles. Niumatalolo and teammates still have endorsed the seniors as captains, even if it’s not an official title.
“I feel very good about our senior leadership. I feel very good about the young men up here on the podium,” said Niumatalolo, referring to French, Snelson, senior safety Tra’ves Bush and junior quarterback Trey Miller. “I believe that they’ll continue to represent our school and our program in a manner I think everybody will be pleased with. I don’t have any apprehension about the direction we’re going.”
Niumatalolo and his staff also are conducting camp without three players who failed their physical readiness tests (PRT) required to clear them to practice. Among the most notable is wide receiver Brandon Turner, who led the Midshipmen in receiving last season.
Missing as well for failing their conditioning tests are sophomore linebacker Josh Tate and junior cornerback Aubrey Felder. The next makeup date to pass the PRT is set for Aug. 20, when school begins.
The absences of Turner and Tate mean their positions are up for grabs until they are back on the field. Senior John O’Boyle and junior Shawn Lynch, a converted safety, are competing for one of the starting wide receiver spots, and sophomore Chris Johnson and Jordan Drake are both listed at the top of the depth chart at outside linebacker.
“The attention to detail, the little things that we kind of focused on, we talked about during spring,” French said. “That was the emphasis we talked about, especially with the senior class. The main difference this year is I think we have a lot of accountability.
“Like Coach said, we have strong senior leadership. Those guys are looking at each other and the young guys and especially with the plebes coming in, we’re really harping on those things.”