The Navy football team lost its second starting wide receiver when Matt Aiken hurt his right knee and was forced from Saturday’s Blue-Gold scrimmage at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Aiken was carrying the ball on an end around when another player collided with his knee. The junior who started 11 games last season remained on the field when the play ended as members of the team’s training and medical staff attended to him a few steps from the sideline.
Aiken had to be helped off the field and to the bench while walking limp. Moments later, Coach Ken Niumatalolo came to the bench and stood beside Aiken as he received additional examination and had his knee iced and wrapped.
It was unclear how long Aiken would be out of the lineup, which is also without its other starting wide receiver, Brandon Turner. The senior is out until at least Aug. 20 after failing the academy’s physical readiness test in July and a subsequent makeup test required to clear all Navy football players to practice.
“I’m very concerned,” Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said of Aiken. “I thought he caught it in the knee. I was hoping it was maybe a thigh contusion, but maybe it’s a hyperextension. That’s a good thing. Nothing really bad if he can work back from that because he’s already had some knee trouble.”
Last season Aiken was the second-leading receiver on Navy with 13 receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned 10 punts for 50 yards after taking over at that position midway through the season.
With Aiken watching most of the scrimmage from the sideline, Navy used a wide receiver rotation of senior John O’Boyle and Jonathan Gazaille, and juniors Shawn Lynch and Casey Bolena on the first team.
Lynch began his college football career as a wide receiver but moved to safety last season before switching again this season. O’Boyle, Gazaille and Bolena, meantime, have combined for five career receptions.
Aiken “is one of our best players,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s our starting wideout. He’s our punt returner. He’s worked hard. Hopefully it’s not too bad. We’ve got three weeks [until the season opener against Notre Dame in Dublin], and we’ll see. I’ve got to get a report” from the team doctor.
There were some encouraging signs offensively despite Aiken’s injury, most notably from the fullbacks. Sophomore starter Noah Copeland had a 53-yard run late in the scrimmage, and soon after senior backup Prentice Christian (DeMatha) scored on a 52-yard run, the most memorable play of the afternoon. Copeland ran for 68 yards on seven carries, and Christian had 110 on 10.
Copeland secured the starting job after standing out in spring practice, and he got limited work on Saturday so the coaching staff could evaluate reserves, including sophomores Quinton Singleton and Maika Polamalu.
Other significant positional decisions to be addressed are backup quarterback and place kicker, where Niumatalolo had five players attempt field goals on Saturday. None made a strong case to become the clear No. 1, although junior Brynmor Hughes was the only one to make a kick when all tried from 47 yards.
Hughes, junior Stephen Picchini and freshmen David Reisner, Nick Sloan and Austin Grebe (North Stafford) combined to go 4 for 15 from 31 yards and beyond.
Freshman Keenan Reynolds and sophomore John Hendrick are competing at backup quarterback, but Jasper indicated neither has separated himself behind starter Trey Miller.
“We did some good things, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Jasper said. “This was the main scrimmage to kind of evaluate guys. We’ll make some decisions tonight when we meet and decide who’s going to go down on the scout team, so Monday we’re going to get back to going against our scout teams and really starting getting our reps in.”