Last week, the Capital published an editorial urging Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to allow Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain to play in the NFL.
I understand the sentiment, and to a point I share it. We all grew up idolizing our sports heroes. The thought of some of our midshipmen becoming those heroes for the next generation is appealing. We’ve spent years cheering for these guys, and we don’t want good things to come to an end. There is, however, a bigger picture to all of this, and I hope we don’t forget that.
Here’s the list of past Navy opponents who were selected in this year’s NFL draft:
Joey Bosa – DE – Ohio State
Ezekiel Elliot – RB –Ohio State
Ronnie Stanley – OT – Notre Dame
Eli Apple – CB – Ohio State
Taylor Decker – T – Ohio State
Darron Lee – LB – Ohio State
Will Fuller – WR – Notre Dame
William Jackson III – CB – Houston
Paxton Lynch – QB – Memphis
Jaylon Smith – LB – Notre Dame
Michael Thomas – WR – Ohio State
Jason Spriggs – T – Indiana
Nick Martin – G – Notre Dame
Tyler Boyd – WR – Pitt
Vonn Bell – S – Ohio State
Kevin Byard – S – Middle Tennessee State
Carl Nassib – DE – Penn State*
KeiVarae Russell – CB – Notre Dame Adolphus Washington – DT – Ohio State Braxton Miller – WR – Ohio State** Leonte Carroo – WR – Rutgers C.J. Prosise – RB – Notre Dame Nick Vannett – TE – Ohio State
Joshua Perry – LB – Ohio State Sheldon Day – DT – Notre Dame
Tavon Young – CB – Temple
Tyler Higbee – TE – Western Kentucky
Tyler Ervin – RB – San Jose State
Cardale Jones – QB – Ohio State**
Jordan Howard – RB – Indiana
Matthew Ioannidis – DT – Temple
Brandon Shell – T – South Carolina***
Antwione Williams – LB – Georgia Southern
Nate Sudfeld – QB – Indiana
Wes Schweitzer – G – San Jose State
Anthony Zettel – DT – Penn State
Jordan Lucas – S – Penn State Kavon Frazier – S – Central Michigan Elandon Roberts – LB – Houston
Brandon Doughty – QB – Western Kentucky
DeMarcus Ayers – WR – Houston
Tyler Matakevich – LB – Temple
Prince Charles Iworah – CB – Western Kentucky
*Did not appear in 2012 game
**Did not appear in 2014 game
***Did not appear in 2011 game
Last week, I explained why the American is the strongest of the Group of Five conferences, and how that doesn’t appear likely to change. That makes great fodder for message board arguments, but what does it really mean?
This is a two-part post. In Part I, I talk about how the American has established itself as the top Group of Five conference. In Part II, we’ll discuss what that means, and where we go from here.
The American Athletic Conference is only three years old, but they’ve done pretty well for themselves in those three years. 2015 was the American’s best season yet, with a New Year’s bowl winner, two teams in the final top 25, the consensus national defensive player of the year (Temple’s Tyler Matakevich), and a player who finished in the top five in Heisman voting (Keenan Reynolds). There were plenty of skeptics who doubted the viability of the Big East’s football remnants, but the conference has not only survived, but thrived.
Indeed, the case can easily be made that the American has emerged as the top Group of Five conference.
John Hopkins recovered a fumble, and Bob Craig followed it up with a touchdown run of 65 yards as the group that would become the “Team Named Desire” opened up their season at Thompson Stadium against William and Mary:
Runs like that helped Craig set a school record by averaging 5.7 yards per carry over the course of his career.
That record is a great way to demonstrate just how revolutionary today’s Navy offense is. Last year I wrote about the 1995 Navy-SMU game and how it was a shock to the system of a moribund football program. That was the first time the spread option took the field in the Navy blue and gold, and its impact was immediate. The Mids reached offensive milestones that day that hadn’t been achieved in years, or in some cases, ever.
What began in 1995 hasn’t let up. Navy’s record books are rewritten each year, and Craig’s mark is no exception. He played from 1952-1954, and his record stood for 50 years. Number two on that list was his teammate, Joe Gattuso (the elder), who averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Ned Oldham (1955-1957) was next at 5.2. After that, nobody really came close. Think of all the great Navy runners in the decades that followed: Bellino, Donnelly, Cooper, Meyers, McCallum. None of those stars were able to challenge Craig’s number.
Almost immediately upon the return of the spread option in 2002, that record became toast. Tony Lane wrapped up his career in 2003 after averaging a mind-boggling 8.9 yards per carry. That’s over three yards per carry more than a record that stood for five decades. Since 2003, Craig’s once-untouchable average has been topped by seven different Navy slotbacks: Lane, Eric Roberts, Reggie Campbell, Shun White, Gee Gee Greene, Geoffery Whiteside, and DeBrandon Sanders. A fullback, Noah Copeland, almost matched the record himself at 5.6 ypc.
The production hasn’t been limited to the ground, either. Jim Stewart owned a school record after averaging 19.3 yards per catch from 1960-1962. He is now fifth on the list, having been topped by Tyree Barnes, Greg Jones, Campbell, and Roberts over the last dozen years.
Remember this the next time you hear that Navy’s isn’t a big-play offense, or that it’s only built for three yards and a cloud of dust. The spread option puts players in a position to make big plays at a rate that is unprecedented in Navy history.
Navy football accomplished a lot in 2015. The team won 11 games, beat Army, won the Military Bowl, and finished ranked in the top 20. Keenan Reynolds was named both the American Athletic Conference and ECAC Offensive Player of the Year, finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting, and was co-recipient of the AAU Sullivan Award given to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete. Four other players earned All-Conference recognition, and eight Mids were named to the All-East team. Coach Niumatalolo was co-Coach of the Year in the American, and was a finalist for two national coaching awards.
Games were won and records were broken, but of all the accolades the team received, the one I value most is the Lambert Trophy, awarded to the best team in the East.