The Navy football team wrapped up spring practice with its annual Blue-Gold game on Saturday, and while a handful of positions remain in flux, Noah Copeland appears firmly on track to become the starting fullback despite limited experience at the position.
Copeland ran for a game-high 66 yards on nine carries and caught one pass for 21 yards to help push the Blue team to a 21-0 victory at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the Midshipmen’s last participation in organized football until training camp opens in August.
By that time, Copeland will have become a sophomore with the daunting responsibility of taking over for graduated Alexander Teich, who for the past two seasons was as steady and dependable as any Navy fullback in the triple-option era.
“He’s not a guy taking anything for granted,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of Copeland. “From a speed standpoint and a quickness standpoint, we knew that he had that. I didn’t realize he was so tough. He’s a stronger runner than he looks like.”
Listed at 5 feet 10 and 205 pounds, Copeland is among the most diminutive to play fullback in the triple option. He’s roughly 10 pounds lighter than Teich, but that size disparity hasn’t stopped Copeland from administering punishment as much as he absorbs it.
Copeland’s primary passage through the line of scrimmage is between the tackles, with the slotbacks handling the majority of the pitches and outside running. So even though he’s no bigger than many of the defensive backs Navy will face this season, Copeland has shown a tenacity that belies his size.
In several instances on Saturday, Copeland dragged multiple defenders by keeping his legs churning underneath the pile when it seemed he surely would be tackled for little to no gain.
“You’ve got to be a man” to play fullback for Navy, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “You’re going to get hit by a guy who’s unblocked, basically a sitting duck. You’re the sacrificial lamb. The guy has a free run on you, so that’s tough.”
Because of Copeland being undersize, Jasper said he could envision a rotation with junior Prentice Christian and sophomore Mike Patrick getting regular touches. Christian ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carriers for the Blue team, which amassed 228 yards and averaged five yards per carry.
Christian, at 5-11, 214, is a more prototypical fullback and is listed third on the depth chart behind Patrick, who missed a week of spring practice with a concussion. Patrick had 52 yards on seven carries for the Gold team.
“As of right now I have the starting position, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Copeland said. “All of us are good fullbacks, so all of us are just going to work hard for the rest of the summer and just get better.”
Midshipmen notes: Freshman safety George Jamison received the Admiral Mack Award as the team’s most improved player of the spring. Jamison is third on the depth chart behind classmate Chris Ferguson and sophomore Wave Ryder. . . .
Freshman Pablo Beltran continued to solidify the starting punting job by averaging 42.4 yards on nine attempts while kicking for both sides on Saturday. Beltran had a long of 52 yards and hit another for 50 yards.