In the days leading to the Navy football team’s 10th game last season, it had become increasingly clear that quarterback Ricky Dobbs wasn’t going to play, much less start. The record-setting senior had absorbed a light blow to the helmet a week earlier, and the coaching staff was all but resigned to rest him against Central Michigan rather than risk additional trauma.
That meant Kriss Proctor, then a junior, was to start for the third time in his career. So secure in Proctor’s aptitude was Coach Ken Niumatalolo that he didn’t treat the move with a lick of apprehension. He instead installed the game plan as if Proctor were the centerpiece of the offense all along.
Following a performance in which he ran for a career-high 201 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, Proctor validated Niumatalolo’s thinking and — for at least one afternoon — had fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium convinced that the future of the Midshipmen’s triple option was in appropriate hands.
The game in many ways was also a dress rehearsal for this season, when the unveiling of Proctor as the full-time starter becomes official. After two years as understudy to his close friend, Proctor’s assignment with the first string is to beat Delaware on Saturday afternoon in the season opener in Annapolis.
Beyond that, Proctor’s most trying enterprise may be how he handles the inevitable comparisons to Dobbs, who crafted one of the most prolific careers in Navy history.
“You know the expectation is going to be there,” said Proctor, who at 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds is almost identical in size to Dobbs. “Expectation is always going to be there. That’s something I can’t control. It’s something that nobody can control. I’ve just got to do my part. I’ve got to come out and work everyday.
“It’s not something I think of. I think about getting better, making myself better, making my teammates better. Those are the things I focus on, and I think they’re the things you’ve got to focus on, so we’re just working as a team to get better, and whatever expectations people want to set, they’re going to be there regardless. I can’t worry about those.”
Proctor has been locked in on upgrading his performance since training camp started early this month, working on the finer points of the triple option with special attention to throwing fundamentals. While Proctor has almost mastered the decision-making required in Navy’s run-heavy attack, he doesn’t possess the arm strength of Dobbs, whose command in the passing game added another layer of unpredictability to the triple option.
Last season, Navy ran 849 plays from scrimmage; 157, or 18 percent, were passes. Expect that percentage to decline this season as Navy defers most often to Proctor’s expertise in running the ball. But that doesn’t mean the Midshipmen plan to disregard throwing it either.
“In the running game, Kriss definitely has the upside on that,” offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “You know what though? He has improved his throwing. I was very impressed. I’m pretty sure for him, like anything, everybody knows what their weakness is, and you work on it. He spent the summer throwing balls, and he’s ready to [show] people that he can throw the football.”
While Proctor is making strides in passing accuracy and efficiency, the search continues for a game-breaking wide receiver to replace Greg Jones, whose 20.8-yard average per catch ranks third all-time at Navy. Jones had 662 yards and five touchdowns last season, including a career-long 85-yard scoring reception in a 35-19 victory over Arkansas State during his final home game.
The offense also is working in a replacement at left tackle, where Jeff Battipaglia started for three straight seasons. Initially, senior David Sumrall appeared to be the leading contender to take over, but the competition among Sumrall, sophomore Graham Vickers and junior Andrew Barker appears too close to call. Niumatalolo may not make the final decision until game day.
Regardless of who’s around him, Proctor is among the undisputed front men in the offense simply because of his position and track record in executing the triple option. Over the past two seasons, he has amassed 527 yards and nine touchdowns on 85 carries. His 6.2-yard average per rush is more than two yards ahead of Dobbs, who finished as the fifth-leading rusher in program history.
“Just because [Proctor] was behind Ricky is not a knock against him because Ricky was that good,” senior guard John Dowd said. “Hopefully Kriss’s development will make Kriss be even better than Ricky.”
There’s that comparison again, and Navy hasn’t even played its first game. Niumatalolo and his staff, though, aren’t necessarily insulating Proctor from that distraction. They know it will be there perhaps indefinitely, or at least until Proctor’s body of work stands on its own.
“This is his team now,” Jasper said. “Ricky had a great career here, and I’m pretty sure there’s some hangover from it. Hopefully we can erase the memory. Ricky’s gone. He’s history. He’s not here anymore, so we have to move on. It’s [Proctor’s] show now. He needs to step up, and again, I’m confident in him. I’m happy for him that his time has come, and hopefully he can live up to expectation that we have for him.”