“This never gets old,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after exiting the White House grounds. “Not that you ever take for granted coming to the White House, but I think we took the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy maybe a little for granted.”
The Midshipmen beat Air Force on Oct. 6 in overtime, 28-21, thanks to a fourth-quarter rally that earned freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds the starting job. Then first freshman to start at quarterback at Navy since 1991 capped the regular season by scoring the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter for a 17-13 victory over Army.
Reynolds was standing in the first row behind the president during the ceremony that lasted roughly 15 minutes, and afterward he along with all of his teammates shook hands with Obama and posed for pictures next to the silver Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy that rested on a table next to the lectern.
Senior captains Bo Snelson and Brye French presented Obama with an official Navy football helmet, but despite urging from the crowd, the president politely declined to wear it.
“Here’s the general rule: You don’t put stuff on your head if you’re the president,” Obama said, drawing laughter throughout the room. “That’s politics 101. You never look good wearing something on your head.”
Obama also introduced Niumatalolo as “my fellow Hawaiian,” and Navy’s fifth-year coach hugged the president before thanking him for taking the time to meet with the team. Niumatalolo and Obama both grew up in Hawaii, where they attended rival high schools.
Some of the heartiest applause came when Obama pointed out Navy has been at the White House eight times in 10 years after winning 19 of its last 21 games against service academy opponents.
“Michelle and I were thinking about just leaving a key under the rug,” Obama said.
Said Niumatalolo: “Obviously the president is a very busy man. He has a lot of things on his plate. We just feel very fortunate that with everything going on in the world, all the things he has to deal with, the most powerful man in the world, he would take a few minutes out for our team, for these young men. I know that the president recognizes who these guys are and what they represent and what they do.”