Navy’s Quinton Singleton began this season on special teams, where he continues to thrive, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago when the Midshipmen’s football coaches began to consider expanding his responsibilities.
In the days before last weekend’s 24-21 victory over Pittsburgh, Mike Judge, a Navy assistant who works with the fullbacks, approached Coach Ken Niumatalolo about the possibility of playing Singleton more extensively after he showed marked improvement in drills.
“When you start practicing faster, you obviously get it,” Judge said. “Things are clearing up for you.”
Judge’s inclination led to the most productive game in Singleton’s career during the last-second win over the Panthers, which allowed Navy to avoid falling below .500 for the first time this season. Singleton finished with 27 yards on five carries, including a nine-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and helped reduce the workload for Noah Copeland and Chris Swain.
Singleton also contributed to the Midshipmen’s final drive that set up place kicker Nick Sloan’s 30-yard field goal as time expired, triggering a wild homecoming celebration at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. On the third play of the series with the Midshipmen facing third and three from the Panthers 42-yard line, Singleton carried for four yards.
It was one of three third downs Navy converted on the decisive possession that began in Pitt territory following a poor punt.
“I was very encouraged by the way he played,” Niumatalolo said of the 6-foot, 204-pound Singleton, whom coaches call the fastest of all the fullbacks and whom teammates call “Evander,” for his resemblance to former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. “I thought he did some real good things, played fast. He’s been our best special teams player to this point, too. He’s been doing a lot of good things.”
With Copeland limited this week in practice, Singleton figures to have another afternoon of added opportunities Saturday against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Also uncertain to play is sophomore fullback Quentin Ezell, who is on the mend from a rib injury incurred during a 28-10 win against Air Force Oct. 5.
Navy (4-3) has lost two in a row to the Fighting Irish after reeling off three wins in four games against one of college football’s most storied programs. To avert a third straight loss, Niumatalolo indicated establishing the fullback would be a priority.
“Everything we do starts in the middle,” Niumatalolo said.
The Midshipmen have had one game this year in which a fullback, called the “B back” in the triple option, has rushed for at least 100 yards. Not coincidentally, Navy compiled its highest point total in a 45-44 loss to Toledo in double overtime, with Copeland running for a career-high 153 yards.
“Every game we didn’t get the B back going, it’s been a tough loss for us,” Singleton said. “When we get the B back going it’s a lot better game for us. You open up the outside. You can pass more.”
The assignment is all the more daunting this time because of the size of Notre Dame’s defensive linemen. Most notable is junior nose guard Louis Nix, who at 6-2 and 342 pounds is considered a lock to be a first-round NFL draft pick. Navy also has to find a way to block defensive end Stephon Tuitt, a 6-6, 312-pound junior.
The Midshipmen have not had a fullback approach 100 rushing yards in each of their last two losses to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (6-2), meantime, have outscored Navy in those games by a combined 106-24.
“We’ve definitely got to get movement,” Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds said. “They have two houses up front.”