Navy Senior Slotback Bobby Doyle Makes the Most of His Touches

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009

The player the Navy coaches have nicknamed "Big-Play Bobby" has averaged less than one carry per game over the course of his college career. He has made a measly five catches in four seasons. And he has failed to record a single statistic in 17 of the 35 games in which he's played.

No, senior slotback Bobby Doyle doesn't get the ball all that often in the Midshipmen's triple-option offense. "But when he touches it, good things happen," Coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

In his career, Doyle has scored touchdowns on a 17-yard run and on a 38-yard catch. He's thrown a five-yard touchdown pass. He also blocked a punt against Army in 2007, Navy's first since 1999. And in last year's 33-27 win over Air Force, Doyle scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown by recovering a blocked punt in the end zone.

"Some guys under pressure thrive. Some guys, when the pressure's on, they can't think, they can't remember their name or which way to go," Niumatalolo said. "It seems like with Bobby, during pressure situations, his mind is still clear. He's still able to execute. The pressure doesn't bother him."

The Midshipmen's ability to flourish under pressure as a team is one reason why they've won the Commander-in-Chief's trophy in each of the past six seasons. Navy (2-2) hosts Air Force (3-1) on Saturday having beaten the Falcons six years in a row by a combined margin of 33 points.

Doyle's play over the past two weeks is a microcosm of his career. In a 27-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Sept. 19, Doyle didn't touch the ball once and spent the majority of the game blocking. But in the 38-22 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday, Doyle rushed for 33 yards on three carries, caught three passes for 71 yards and accounted for five first downs. In his career, 16 of his 30 carries and all five of his catches have resulted in a first down or touchdown.

"In our offense, a lot of the times you're not going to make a play unless five other people are doing their jobs," said Doyle, when asked to account for his playmaking ability. "When I'm catching the ball, it's because [quarterback Ricky Dobbs] had time to throw, Ricky made the right read, Ricky put the ball somewhere right. When I'm making a run outside, it's because Ricky made the right read, we got the ball outside, and the front side [slot] back and wide receiver got those blocks. It's really a culmination of things."

Football has always been a part of Doyle's life. His father, Bob, coached at Chardon High, about 40 miles northeast of Cleveland, for 22 years. When the Chardon coaches gathered at the Doyle house to watch film, Bobby sat there with them. When the Hilltoppers were on the practice field, Bobby was there, too. After Chardon won the Ohio Division II title in 1994, Bobby brought the team's starting quarterback and running back to his second-grade classroom for show-and-tell.

"I thought it was cool," Bobby said.

Doyle played quarterback while growing up; in the eighth grade, he had such a good grasp of his team's offense that his coach allowed him to call some of his own plays. He moved to running back when he made the varsity team as a sophomore, and on his very first carry, he broke free for a 54-yard touchdown. He filled in at quarterback for three games as a senior, and in his first game under center, he rushed for a school-record 327 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 3, 20, 50, 70 and 70 yards. (He later treated his offensive linemen to dinner at Buca di Beppo.) During his final two seasons of high school, Doyle averaged nearly nine yards per carry and scored 40 touchdowns.

"There are some guys that have that intangible ability to make plays, and you can't really put your finger on it," said Bob Doyle, who retired from coaching when Bobby was in middle school. "He's grown up with the game, he knows the game, he understands the game. He's got talent. The thing is, some people just go out and play. I know he always thinks about it."

Doyle chose Navy over Air Force, the team he watched and admired as a child, and came to Annapolis as a quarterback, but he moved to slotback during the first week of preseason camp. His father had always stressed the importance of blocking, and that made Doyle's transition to college a little bit easier. Even now, when Bob Doyle watches Bobby play, he focuses more on Bobby's blocking and makes sure to praise him when he throws an especially good block.

But Bob Doyle's favorite moment watching his son came in a game against Duke during Bobby's sophomore season. Navy trailed the Blue Devils by eight points late in the fourth quarter when Doyle took a pitch from quarterback Jarod Bryant, stopped and threw back to Bryant for a touchdown. Bryant's two-point conversion run tied the score, and Navy went on to win, 46-43.

It was the first time that Doyle was involved in a scoring play at Navy, and it was a hint of things to come.

"But what I remember more than the touchdown pass is that on the following kickoff, Bobby made the tackle," Bob Doyle said. "He just has that knack."

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