Pop Quiz: Middleton's the Answer

By Christian Swezey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Navy freshman Wyatt Middleton had been counting the days until the Army-Navy game since early in the summer. He had no choice: Such information is considered part of the required knowledge, or "rates," that a freshman at the academy must memorize.

Other rates include the daily and weekly menus at the dining hall, the number of days until graduation, which uniform is required on certain days, etc.

"The days until the Army-Navy game was the easiest," Middleton said. "My other rates, I didn't know them too well."

Middleton has a better excuse than most. He is the leading tackler on the football team.

Middleton, a 6-foot, 200-pound rover, has 85 tackles for the Midshipmen (8-4) entering the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah (8-4) on Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Because of the academic and physical rigors for freshmen, or plebes, at the academy, it is rare for freshmen to make the varsity football team.

It is even more uncommon for them to become starters. Yet even in that subset, Middleton stands out. He has set a school record for tackles by a freshman and has a chance to be the first freshman to lead the team in that category since Navy began keeping the statistic in 1970.

He leads senior linebacker Irv Spencer by three tackles.

"He's been thrown in the fire and he's handled it well," senior center Antron Harper said. "For a freshman to come in and be able to handle the things he has to deal with in the hallway, and to be able to handle the defense, he has kept a level head about himself. . . . It's impressive."

The previous record for tackles by a freshman was 79, set by linebacker Tom Doman in 1983.

"To be a plebe and to be the leading tackler on the defense, you have to be a chameleon," Doman said. "You have to be humble enough to put on a uniform with no stripes and answer any and all questions [by upperclassmen]. Then on the practice field, you have to tell juniors and seniors to get in gear. Then you run back to [the dorm] and have to be ready to answer questions again. . . . You have to be a leader on the field and then get back to the dorm and be lower than dog [expletive]."

Middleton said he had strong role models who helped him learn how to balance such things.

His older sister played softball at Notre Dame; Kellie Middleton graduated in 3 1/2 years with a double major in psychology and biology. She had two years of eligibility remaining and transferred to Georgia, where she earned a master's degree in public health, was a second-team all-American outfielder in 2006 and was admitted to Pittsburgh's medical school.

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