A year ago at this time, the Navy football team was coming off its first losing season in nearly a decade, there was uncertainty about its starting quarterback situation and a season opener loomed against Notre Dame thousands of miles across the Atlantic.
During Saturday morning’s media day preceding the start of training camp, the Midshipmen had no such issues to consider. It prompted Coach Ken Niumatalolo to say he wasn’t sure if he could remember being more excited heading into a season.
Part of that enthusiasm stems from sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who rescued Navy’s season last year in dramatic fashion. With the Midshipmen trailing at Air Force by eight points in the fourth quarter and in danger of falling to 1-4, Reynolds took over for Trey Miller and directed Navy to 15 consecutive points in a 28-21 overtime win.
Reynolds never relinquished the starting job. Navy went on to win four in a row to become bowl eligible and closed the regular season with its 11th consecutive victory over Army, 17-13. The Midshipmen also reclaimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after Air Force had owned it for two seasons.
“Most of it has to do with all of these guys up here,” said Niumatalolo, who sat on the podium at the banquet facility at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with senior co-captains Cody Peterson and Matt Aiken as well as Reynolds and junior cornerback Parrish Gaines. “Just our senior leadership. We have great kids on our team. We’re as talented as we’ve ever been. Obviously Keenan gives us a lot of optimism. He’s as good a quarterback as we’ve had here at the Naval Academy.”
Reynolds was Navy’s third-leading rusher last season, amassing 649 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. He also threw for 898 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
Though Reynolds has stabilized the most important position on the field, the Midshipmen are leaning on less experienced slotbacks. The starters at the position heading into training camp are senior Darius Staten and junior Geoffrey Whiteside. That duo combined for 37 carries last season.
But the Midshipmen do bring back their second-leading rusher, Noah Copeland. The junior fullback ran for 738 yards and five touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 91 yards.
“We definitely have a lot of returning talent coming back from last year,” said Aiken, a wide receiver who missed the first four games last season with a knee injury. “I wouldn’t say it’s that much different than any other year though. I think that everyone’s still reserved. There’s no extra emotion or anything like that. We’re just ready to work and come in and grind.”
The team does have at least one inspirational figure to rally around in Rafi Montalvo. The quarterback was injured in November in a serious automobile accident in Miami during Thanksgiving break.
Montalvo, a freshman at the time, was in the passenger seat when the single-vehicle collision occurred, and he remained in critical condition while in a medically induced coma at Kendall Regional Medical Center. The prognosis was bleak at the time, but Montalvo not only survived but was able to rehabilitate enough to come back to the academy in July.
Montalvo will be held out of contact until at least November.
“It’s great to see him come back like this,” said Peterson, a linebacker. “It’s huge for the team.”