Texas Is a Key Stop on Navy Football's Grand Tour

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In the four seasons that senior center Curtis Bass has spent at Navy, the Midshipmen have played games in 12 states and the District of Columbia. But this two-week stretch is particularly special for the Texas native.

Bass had more than 50 family members and friends in the stands at Rice Stadium last Saturday to watch Navy's 63-14 victory over the Owls in Houston, and he'll have nearly as many this week in Dallas when the Midshipmen (4-2) face Southern Methodist (3-2).

"We get to travel so much," said Bass, who is from Pearland, just outside of Houston. "Other teams, they're kind of regional as far as who they play. The fact that we get to go to so many places -- like we get to go to Hawaii -- it's a great feeling, especially when your family gets to see you."

Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk's ultimate goal is to put together a schedule that gives the Midshipmen an opportunity to win enough games to become bowl eligible, but he also factors in geography when looking for opponents. In the next three years, Navy is scheduled to travel across the country, from California (San Jose State, 2011) to Alabama (Troy, 2012) to Kentucky (Western Kentucky, 2011) to Michigan (Central Michigan, 2012).

Playing such a wide-ranging schedule is one of the hallmarks of Navy's football program. Over the past 10 years, the Midshipmen have played at least one team from every conference (including the independents) in division I-A; only Southern Mississippi, Cincinnati and Syracuse can make a similar claim.

"Those are all important in balancing out the geographics to ensure we maintain a program of national stature and interest and visibility," Gladchuk said. "We're an independent for a reason. There are probably three conferences we could join, but then we'd become parochial. At Navy, our intention is not to be parochial; we want visibility and a much more broad-based geographic stage."

Texas provides the Midshipmen with a big stage. Navy sold approximately 1,200 tickets to the game at Rice, where there was an announced crowd of 15,096, and it expects more than 5,000 of its fans to attend Saturday's game against SMU at 32,000-seat Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

The Midshipmen are creating a rivalry with SMU. The two schools are in the midst of a four-year home-and-home contract that concludes in 2011, and they have committed to another four-year home-and-home series that will begin in 2015.

"We love Texas, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area is huge in terms of recruiting and visibility," Gladchuk said. "SMU is a quality school with quality people, and it's got an environment that's very similar to the Naval Academy, when you look at their campus and stadium. . . . They're a program a lot like Navy. They don't necessarily get the best athletes -- they're in the shadow of Texas and Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor -- but they get some really great kids that play hard."

The two programs recently announced the creation of the Gansz Trophy, which will be awarded to the winner of the Navy-SMU game. The trophy honors the late Frank Gansz, a 1960 Navy graduate who went on to become one of the top special teams coaches in NFL history. Gansz, who played center and linebacker for the Midshipmen and was an assistant coach at both Navy and SMU, died in April 2009.

Playing Navy "is great for us, even though it's a tough game for us," said June Jones, who's in his second season as SMU's coach. "It's great because of the national exposure. When Navy plays, it's in every newspaper, the media really covers it -- and that's good for SMU. And it's great to honor Coach Frank Gansz. It's a way to keep his memory alive, and we're both honored to able to do it."

Texas is particularly important to Navy from a recruiting standpoint. The Midshipmen have more players from Texas (28) than any other state, with the majority hailing from the Houston and Dallas metropolitan areas. Eight starters are from Texas.

This Friday, Coach Ken Niumatalolo and his staff will attend high school games in the Dallas area. They did the same thing last week in Houston.

"Football in Texas is so big; every high school has a football building with a coach and their own weight room and strength coach," Niumatalolo said. "It's a big area for all three academies. We've got to try to get our share of kids from out of there."

The Midshipmen need to win three of their final seven games to book their spot in the Texas Bowl, which will be played at Houston's Reliant Stadium on Dec. 31. It won't be easy; only one of their final seven opponents has a losing record (Hawaii, which is 2-3).

"The thing we're not going to do, that we can't do, is to over-schedule," Gladchuk said. "Sometimes you can get overzealous and lose sight of the target. Our target is to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and get to a bowl game."

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