Coming off its first losing season in a decade, the Navy football team opened training camp on Wednesday afternoon without captains and minus three other players who failed their physical readiness tests, Coach Ken Niumatalolo said following a two-hour practice in Annapolis.
Seniors Bo Snelson and Brye French were voted captains in February, but subsequent off-field violations compelled academy officials to strip them of their official leadership roles. Neither Niumatalolo nor the players addressed the specific nature of the violations, and it’s unclear if French or Snelson will reclaim his captaincy later this season.
“Just made a dumb mistake, and I’m being punished for it, obviously,” said French, a starter at inside linebacker. “I’m sure Bo said the same thing. Still trying to be a leader on the team, especially in the locker room on the field. I’ll learn from this example and try to teach the young guys not to make stupid mistakes.”
Said Snelson, a slotback: “It’s a difficult situation. We really want to make an impact and still be leaders on the team, and that’s what we are, so as far as what administration decides, every decision comes with consequences, and you have to live with those.”
Niumatalolo said he plans to use captains on a per-game basis, beginning with the season opener against Notre Dame in Dublin on Sept. 1.
The Midshipmen, meantime, are weathering the absence of senior wide receiver Brandon Turner, sophomore linebacker Josh Tate and junior cornerback Aubrey Felder. All failed their conditioning tests in July as well as a makeup test and thus are not eligible to practice.
Niumatalolo has granted exceptions, allowing players who failed their tests to be with the team while not practicing. But after Navy went 5-7 last season and lost five games by a combined 11 points, Niumatalolo elected to keep them out as he stresses renewed attention to discipline in this training camp.
Turner, Tate and Felder will be allowed to rejoin the team if they can pass the test at the start of school on Aug. 20.
“The standard is up,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re not fooling around, and it’s a hard deal. One guy [Tate] was the starting striker. One guy [Turner] was probably our best wide receiver, probably one of the best football players on our team, so that was a hard decision to make, but the standard, it is what it is.”
Those absences leave the Midshpmen even more short-handed than they had envisioned following several players leaving the program in the spring, most notably linebacker Matt Brewer and cornerback David Sperry. Brewer is no longer with the team for violating team rules, and Sperry was in violation of academy rules.
Also gone are outside linebacker Jarvis Cummings (academics), fullback Mike Patrick (academics) and center Dale Howard (team rules). All were listed as backups in spring practice.