Navy Junior Defensive Back John Angelo Bounces Back From Hit That Cost Him Most of His 2008 Season
Friday, August 28, 2009
Navy junior John Angelo doesn't remember the crushing helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him out of the Midshipmen's game at Wake Forest last September. That's probably a good thing, because it has made it easier for him to eventually return to the football field.
"It's almost like I have nothing to go off of. It's like it didn't happen," said Angelo, who has watched a video of the hit on YouTube. "It is kind of scary to think about, but that's what happens when we play. . . . I kind of brush things off, and don't let them bother me."
Angelo was beginning to carve out a niche on special teams last year when he got hurt. In Navy's first four games, he averaged 24.7 yards per kickoff return, and his 57-yarder set up a field goal in a 23-21 victory over Rutgers.
But on the opening kickoff of the second half against Wake Forest, Angelo (5 feet 9, 174 pounds) was leveled by Demon Deacons safety Alex Frye (6-3, 195). Angelo was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion; Coach Ken Niumatalolo said later that it was "as severe a concussion as we've seen here." Aside from a brief appearance against Army on Dec. 6, Angelo did not play again in the 2008 season.
But Angelo participated fully in spring practices and says he feels no lingering effects from the hit. He's currently listed as senior Blake Carter's backup at left cornerback, and he's been waiting for his chance to play in the secondary because it means that he'll be the one doing the hitting, he said.
He's also worked out as a punt returner, behind junior Mario Washington, the entrenched starter. Angelo sometimes jokes with his mother that he's back doing kickoff returns; she responds by threatening to call Navy's coaches. Niumatalolo understands her concerns.
"We had a kid at Hawaii that was a kick returner, an all-conference kid. He kind of got laid out like John did, but he wasn't the same after that," Niumatalolo said. "Sometimes it's kind of hard to get your confidence back after that. [Angelo is] fine with that. I'm the one who's a little apprehensive."
Freshman De'Von Richardson is 6 feet tall and 205 pounds, which makes him one of Navy's biggest defensive backs. But he is quick to point out that "I'm regular size if I went to some other school."
Richardson's size and his grasp of Navy's defense have allowed him to quickly move onto the depth chart. He is listed as third string at right cornerback, and is one of a handful of plebes who appear likely to make the Midshipmen's travel squad.
"There is no position that is easy to come in and be a starter as a freshman, but if you can help us on special teams and you can run, it will help you get a chance to get on the field," said Buddy Green, Navy's defensive coordinator. "Having gone to prep school for a year, he knows the defense, he knows our system, so it is a little easier for a guy like that to adjust as a freshman."
Richardson played quarterback and cornerback at Bowie High School and said he didn't even know where the academy was located when he was first contacted by Joe Speed, a former Navy safety and the team's current secondary coach. Richardson had drawn interest from Syracuse, Northwestern and Connecticut, but he figured he had a better chance of getting onto the field quickly with the Midshipmen. Also, most of those bigger programs wanted him to convert to wide receiver.
"I don't really like playing receiver," Richardson said. "I don't like getting hit. I like hitting. Navy gave me the choice of playing offense or defense." . . .
Sophomore Mike Stukel, who has been impressive as a slotback and kick returner during preseason camp, moved to quarterback to replace sophomore backup Kriss Proctor, who is expected to be sidelined for a month following leg surgery. Neither Stukel, who played quarterback for much of the spring before shifting to slotback, nor Proctor has any varsity playing experience. Proctor's injury was first reported by the Annapolis Capital.