New Center DeMell Being Asked To Snap It Up a Bit for the Mids

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009

The yelling, at times, can get frustrating. No matter what sophomore Brady DeMell is doing -- whether it's playing center during a one-minute, end-of-game drill, or working at guard against the scout team, or running sprints at the end of practice -- one of Navy's coaches is watching him closely and letting him know when he messes up.

"After every single play you're getting it," DeMell said. "But it's a good thing because if they weren't yelling at me, I probably wouldn't be focusing as much. If they didn't think I could do it, they wouldn't try to help me."

DeMell also understands the sense of urgency. Navy can put experienced players at the tackle and guard positions, but it does not have a center with any varsity experience. DeMell is expected to start at center and will make his collegiate debut on Sept. 5 at sixth-ranked Ohio State, which has a veteran defensive line. One month later, he and the Midshipmen will face rival Air Force, which runs a 3-4 defense.

This is the second year in a row that Navy has had to prepare a center with little collegiate experience at the position. Last season, Ricky Moore started all 13 games after moving from tackle during the offseason. The 6-foot-3, 286-pound DeMell played center at Mentor High School near Cleveland but practiced at guard during his freshman year with the Midshipmen. Navy's coaches moved him back to center in the spring because they wanted a bigger player at the position.

"That is our Air Force move, because they put a guy over the center and we need somebody there that can handle it," Coach Ken Niumatalolo said in March, prior to the start of spring practices. "We moved him in there because he was the one guy that fit the mold of what we want. He has loose hips, he is tough, he can move and he has the mass we are looking for. We felt like we got manhandled a little bit inside against Air Force last year and that made it tough for us to run inside the box."

Navy's offense struggled against Air Force last season; the Midshipmen won, 33-27, but they scored only one offensive touchdown and gained only 244 total yards, one of their lowest outputs of the season. The Falcons have a veteran nose guard in senior Ben Garland, who is 6-5 and 275 pounds.

"Especially when I first moved to center, all [offensive line coach Ashley Ingram] ever talked about was Air Force," DeMell said. "That's all the film we watched: This is why you've got to do this and this, because look what the nose tackle did to Ricky when he didn't get that down. I'm always getting that brought up to me."

Unlike Moore, who had to learn how to snap the ball, DeMell knows the nuts and bolts of the position. The biggest challenge is getting accustomed to the speed of the college game and being consistent. At times in scrimmages, he's found himself thinking about engaging the nose guard right away -- and then he makes a bad snap.

"He's got to get his second step down, play with lower pad level, play with better effort," Ingram said. "We always talk to him about his hands, keeping his hands inside. . . . He's working hard, and he's a very coachable kid. He has a chance to be a good player."

Junior Patrick Snow left the team last week because of injuries, leaving the Midshipmen with a trio of untested sophomores -- DeMell, Eric Douglass and Mike McCarthy -- at center. Senior guard Curtis Bass, who started 13 games at right guard last season, took some reps at center during Navy's second scrimmage. Bass (6-1, 265) has not played center since he was at the Naval Academy Preparatory School.

"We'd like Brady to take that bull by the horns and be that position," Niumatalolo said. "Right now, the best scenario we have is Brady at center with Curtis at guard."

DeMell has Bass on his right and senior captain Osei Asante on his left, and that has helped him become more comfortable with the offense. But with experienced players beside him, it means that Ingram can spend more time watching DeMell.

"During the spring, if I messed up, it was okay. It was my first time and I was learning," DeMell said. "Now, if I'm still messing up, they need to stop that and I need to start progressing. I've been playing center for a while now. I need to improve."

Bass tells DeMell not to worry about the yelling; it's what happens when coaches need to get a young player ready for a larger role. Eventually, it will help him become a better player. When Bass was a sophomore, his position coach -- who happened to be Niumatalolo at the time -- yelled at him every day.

" 'Dagnabbit Curtis!' It rings in my head so much that I can't help but do everything right," Bass said with a smile. "It just sticks with you."

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