The Navy football team has made a habit lately of showing up at the White House during the early spring to accept the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The Midshipmen gathered at the Rose Garden on Friday and received the hardware from President Obama, who has become especially familiar with Coach Ken Niumatalolo and his charges.
Obama mentioned several players by name, including senior linebackers Cody Peterson, a co-captain, and D.J. Sargenti, as well as record-setting sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds. He also acknowledged the seniors who helped the 2013 team become the fifth in the 132 years of the program to win at least nine games, beat Army and win a bowl game.
“This is the second time these seniors have come here to claim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. If you guys have your punch cards with you, the next one is free,” said Obama, whose one-liner elicited much laughter throughout the audience. “I’m pretty sure Coach Ken would agree this was one of the best teams yet.”
Senior co-captain Matt Aiken and Peterson presented Obama with an official team jersey emblazoned with the No. 44 on the back. The president proudly held up his new piece of memorabilia and posed for pictures with Aiken, Peterson and Niumatalolo, who hails from Obama’s home state of Hawaii.
“It doesn’t get old,” said Aiken, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against San Jose State Nov. 22 but postponed surgery to get on the field for one play against Army three weeks later. “It’s amazing just to have the president say your name and congratulate your team on all the hard work that you’ve put in.”
The ceremony always is particularly gratifying for the senior class, which went 31-20 and qualified for three bowl games, including beating Middle Tennessee State, 24-6, in December in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The Midshipmen’s ninth trip in 11 years also served as part of the healing process in the wake of the death of freshman running back Will McKamey, who collapsed during practice March 22. McKamey underwent surgery to reduce swelling and bleeding on his brain but died three days later.