Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo typically provides an optimistic opening statement to begin the football team’s annual media day. On Saturday morning at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the winningest coach in school history concluded those remarks by revealing a bit of somber news.
Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper is taking a leave of absence for the immediate future to be with his son Jarren, who is in an Annapolis-area hospital following a sudden, undisclosed medical emergency.
Jasper is in his 18th season with Navy, including the last nine as offensive coordinator of one of the most productive rushing attacks in major college football.
“I just like to close by — I normally don’t do this, bring up personal matters — but this man pretty much single-handedly, nobody has been more instrumental to the success of our football program than Ivin Jasper,” Niumatalolo said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family right now.”
Jasper missed his first practice of training camp Friday afternoon, leaving much of the offensive coordinator duties to Ashley Ingram.
Ingram, a 10th-year assistant, is in charge of the running game as well as the offensive line, among other responsibilities.
The absence of Jasper comes only days into what figures to be a pivotal month of preparation before the Midshipmen, with a new full-time starting quarterback, open the season Sept. 1 on the road against Florida Atlantic and new Coach Lane Kiffin.
Jasper has worked wonders with quarterbacks in Navy’s triple option, most notably record-setting Keenan Reynolds. He also has taught the system to other players from different high school football backgrounds, including Lamar Owens, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Ricky Dobbs, who held a handful of Navy’s rushing and scoring records before Reynolds.
Last year, Jasper had Will Worth, who began the season as the backup, matching Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville touchdown for touchdown. But Worth broke a bone in his right foot in the American Athletic Conference championship game against Temple on Dec. 3 in Annapolis, ending his season.
Enter third-stringer Zach Abey, then a sophomore. With one week to prepare, Abey made the first start of his career last year against Army in a 21-17 loss that ended the Midshipmen’s record 14-game winning streak in the series.
Jasper spent the majority of spring practice overseeing Abey’s development, which remains a work in progress, according to both the quarterback and his coaches.
“We got off to a rough start as an offense this spring,” Abey said. “But I was working with coach Jasper all of the summer, and I really feel like our offense got off to a great start this camp.”
So indispensable has Jasper been to the program that, according to Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, he was in line to become head coach when Niumatalolo was exploring the possibility of taking over the same position at Brigham Young two years ago.
“Ivin hasn’t been with us for the last couple days, but our whole team is praying for him,” Niumatalolo said. “Jarren has some critical medical issues right now. Like I said, nobody’s been more instrumental to our success than Ivin.”