“He was always the last guy on the field,” Navy offensive line coach Ashley Ingram said in a phone interview Saturday. “So to see him be the first guy on the field with the flag … it just says a lot about what the guys felt about him, what the team felt about him.”
The U.S. Naval Academy announced Friday that Forney, 22, was found unresponsive by a fellow midshipman in Bancroft Hall, the school’s dormitory, on Thursday evening. Forney was transported to Anne Arundel County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 11:28 p.m. Officials said foul play is not suspected and the cause of death is under investigation.
A Walkersville, Md., native, Forney started all 13 games his senior season and played in every game from the beginning of his sophomore year. He came to the academy after a standout career at Georgetown Prep, where he earned first-team all-state honors from the Associated Press his senior year before graduating in 2015.
His college choice fulfilled a familial destiny of sorts. Forney’s father, Rick, a former minor league pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system who grew up in Annapolis, started talking to his son about going to the Naval Academy when he was in middle school.
When he got to Annapolis, the first thing Navy coaches noticed about Forney was his size. Because Navy recruits must sign on to complete a service requirement upon graduation, players tend to be smaller than those in the average Division I football program. Forney stood out not just for his frame but for how athletic he was in his build.
Ingram described Forney’s play as “savage” — high praise from an offensive line coach. In 2019, Forney was selected to the all-American Athletic Conference first team for leading a rejuvenated offensive line that helped Navy average 360.5 rushing yards per game, most in the nation and a program record for a season.
Off the field, the senior showed a softer side.
“He was a big, tough kid,” offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said in an interview Saturday. “But he was a gentle person.”
“He was just kind of a big teddy bear,” Ingram said. “Within the offensive line room, he was the anchor of the group. He really had the most experience as a player, lot of times was the voice of reason, even with me. He was always saying, ‘Hey, we’re okay, we’re okay, calm down,’ stuff like that. I think that was just his nature. … Things just didn’t shake him; things didn’t rock him.”
Tributes to Forney poured in on social media Friday. Many took to Twitter to share prayers and condolences for the family and images of Forney’s jersey number, 68.
Navy postponed its annual team banquet, which had been scheduled for Friday, and met for a more casual team dinner instead, where players and coaches had the chance to stand and share memories of Forney. It was a somber evening, Jasper said, but there was also laughter and healing as the Mids celebrated Forney’s life.
The lineman was set to graduate in May and had been assigned to commission as a cryptologic warfare officer. Because he was colorblind, Forney’s service assignment options were somewhat restricted.
Ingram, who was Forney’s position coach for all four years, said he was grateful he happened to run into Forney on Wednesday during a busy winter period when coaches are often away from school on recruiting trips.
“Thursday he texted me. I think from about 1:30 to 4:30, over a three-hour span, me and him texted back and forth — I counted it last night — 53 different times,” Ingram said, pausing. “Maybe some solace in that. He loved the academy, he loved his teammates, but I think he also understood how much he was loved and appreciated.”
Forney is survived by his parents, Rick and Erika Forney; two younger brothers, Chris and Erik; and a sister, Rebekah.
Jasper’s message at the team dinner Friday night was for Rick, the manager of a minor league baseball team based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, whom the offensive coordinator got to know while he recruited Forney in high school.
“A lot of guys were talking at dinner; some guys you couldn’t hear because they were talking real low,” Jasper said. “For me, my message was more to his dad. He’s amazing. He was really trying to comfort everybody else there. I told him, as a parent, we all want to know that we raised our kids right, and I said: ‘Rick, I want you to know you raised a great son. You did it right.’ That’s probably the one thing you can say to a parent.”