Tyler Tidwell displayed a sense of adventure at a young age. At age 4, he climbed a ladder to the top of the family's single-story home and asked his father, Bobby, if it would hurt if he jumped off.

As a sixth-grader, Tyler informed his dad that he planned to attend a military academy because if he fulfilled his duty, doors to the business world would open.

Bobby Tidwell thought it was a phase. Now, he acknowledges it was something more. A junior linebacker at Navy, Tyler Tidwell always wanted to serve his country, just as his two grandfathers did during World War II and Bobby did in Vietnam before embarking on a 26-year career as an Oklahoma City police officer.

"Growing up, I didn't have posters of famous athletes or actors on my bedroom walls; I had posters of Marines," Tyler Tidwell said. "People would ask me who my hero was, and I would say my dad. I always liked seeing the two Purple Hearts he earned and hearing the stories he told. Both my mom and my dad were police officers for a long time before retiring. After I graduate, I want to go into Marine infantry and be a soldier. I want to follow in their footsteps."

Right now, Tidwell is focused on Navy's game tomorrow at Rutgers (5-2). The Scarlet Knights have made significant strides since being dominated last season by the Midshipmen, 54-21. Rutgers is one victory from posting its first winning season since 1992 and becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1978. Navy, 4-2 and on a four-game winning streak for just the third time in the past 25 years, is two wins away from becoming eligible to play in a bowl game after a 41-9 victory at Rice last Saturday.

Rutgers "has something to play for," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "I'm sure they will be fired up and ready to go. If you look at their schedule, I'm sure they have us circled as the one to get bowl eligible against."

Tidwell plays a major role in Navy's defensive scheme, which revolves around the production of its linebackers. Inside linebackers Rob Caldwell (team-high 76 tackles) and Jake Biles (51 tackles), along with outside linebackers David Mahoney (41 tackles, team-high six sacks) and Tidwell (33 tackles), have recorded 201 of the team's 508 tackles (40 percent) and 11 of the team's 19 sacks (58 percent).

Navy's defense played its best game of the season against Rice, recording six sacks, forcing two turnovers and holding the Owls to 284 yards of total offense. And Tidwell was a major reason why, with eight tackles, including two sacks.

"I think I'm a lot more comfortable out there now than I was at the beginning of the season," Tidwell said. "I know my role in our system and I think our defense as a whole is playing a lot better. We've won some games and we're more confident."

Said Johnson: "Tyler plays with a good motor. He made some big plays."

Growing up, Tidwell's passion for the game developed after he quit several sports, including basketball, baseball and tae kwon do, in which he earned a black belt as a sixth-grader.

After leading Deer Creek High School in his home town of Edmond, Okla., to a state title as a sophomore and being named all-state as a senior, Tidwell's college choice came down to Air Force and Navy.

Initially, he thought he'd be headed for Colorado Springs, where the Falcons had dominated Army and Navy for close to two decades. But after visiting Annapolis, he wanted to help the then-struggling Midshipmen.

"I don't know what exactly it was about the Naval Academy, but as soon as I got here everything felt comfortable," he said. "It just felt right. It was the place for me."