The induction ceremony for the inaugural class of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame was held last night in Honolulu. Among the honorees was Navy’s own Ken Niumatalolo, who was enshrined along with other Polynesian luminaries like Junior Seau, Kurt Gouvea, Olin Kreutz, and Kevin Mawae. It’s an extremely impressive list, which comes as no surprise considering the rich history of Polynesians in football. For Coach Niumatalolo to be included in the first-ever class is a real honor, and a testament to how respected he is in the Polynesian community. I had a chance to witness that respect first-hand at the Poinsettia Bowl luncheon in 2007, right after Coach Niumatalolo was named head coach. He had just become the first Samoan head coach in college football history, and every Polynesian player on Utah’s roster wanted their picture taken with him after the event was over. It was a proud moment for this Navy fan to see our coach held in such high esteem.
Coach Niumatalolo wasn’t honored just for being first, though. He was honored because he wins, and does so in a way that gives credit to the school.
Here’s the enshrinement video they played at the ceremony:
Work is preventing me from getting up to Annapolis for the game this weekend, but I’ll be alert and focused from my couch as Navy attempts to avenge last year’s 14-6 loss in Colorado Springs. This game is getting broken down from literally every angle you can think of, but here are three storylines I’m going to be keeping an eye on for Saturday.
Orange Zone Playcalling: Navy’s offensive struggles in the red zone during last year’s game have been well documented, as has the apparent turn-around through the early part of this year. But can you really call it a turnaround after just three games? Navy has been six for eight in the redzone this year in terms of coming away with touchdowns, but the offense has also scored seven touchdowns from outside the redzone. Given the familiarity of the Air Force defense with the option and the usually solid play of the Air Force cornerbacks in supporting the run while in the redzone, I’m curious to see if Niumatalolo and Jasper roll the dice in what I’m dubbing the “Orange Zone.” I’m talking about the area between the opponent’s 20 and 40 yard line, or as it’s better known, “field goal range.” Think about it; John Howell and Gee Gee Green have proved themselves as a big play slotbacks who can score when they get to the outside, while the Navy passing game – on somewhat questionable footing coming into the year – has already produced three receiving touchdowns. If Air Force is firing the corners and cheating a safety, I would not be surprised to see Navy’s offense become especially aggressive in trying to score while in my so-called “Orange Zone.”
Alexander Teich: I’ve been in my share of Navy press conferences after losses, but until the post-game press conference after the loss at South Carolina, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Navy player as mad about a game as Alexander Teich was. It’s one thing to be disappointed. It’s one thing to be heartbroken. But when your team captain is – and please excuse my somewhat vulgar nature here – straight-up pissed off, you can’t help but think to the next game and wonder how he’ll play. Teich is the kind of emotional leader who has always used that kind of fire to fuel his performance, and I’d expect nothing less in arguably the biggest game of the season. At the same time, Navy-Air Force games have hardly been conducive to breakout fullback play in the recent past. Last year Teich had just 38 yards against Air Force, and the year before that he and then-starter Vince Murray averaged just under 3.0 yards per carry between them on 29 combined carries. Actually, Navy has gone five seasons without a fullback or fullback tandem running for over 100 yards against Air Force (Adam Ballard had 134 yards in 2006), a stat that something tells me Teich knows all too well. He won’t need to rush for over 100 yards to make his presence felt, but he’s going to have to make an impact if Navy wants to come out on top. Whether it’s leading the way for Proctor and blowing up the ‘backer on a midline, or catching, turning, and getting upfield on a screen, Teich has the opportunity to live up to his captain status this Saturday, and prove that he was more than just a fuming player after the tough loss to the Gamecocks.
Defensive Substitutions: Bill Wagner posted an interesting tidbit on his blog about defensive end Wes Henderson getting the nod over Jamel Dobbs at defensive end for Saturday’s game. Henderson had a pretty rip-roaring game against USC two weeks ago when he recorded five stops, so much so that I honestly mistook him for Jabaree Tuani at times. Henderson getting the nod might just be a case of a great game rewarded and coach Pehrson going with the “hot hand,” but I think it also speaks to what has silently become a surprisingly deep Navy defense. With all three injured outside linebackers returning this week – and with Brye French having played well against South Carolina – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see Buddy Green rolling guys in and out on a regular basis Saturday to keep them fresh. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got to wonder if the Air Force defensive injuries will be felt hardest in the second half, when the attrition of a *hopefully* successful Navy run game could really take its toll.
Ok, that’s what I’m going to be checking out, in addition to the “usual” storylines of special teams, extracurricular activity, and amount of times coach gets caught on national television mouthing “SON OF BISCUIT.” Any particular storylines you’re checking out?
Thanks to my terrible work ethic, the M.O. for this blog over the last year or so has been for me to comment on things about a month after everyone stops caring (Man, the Casey Anthony verdict is making my Twitter timeline unreadable! And can you believe the U.S. women lost to Sweden?). But I can’t move on to other things without mentioning a few items of varying levels of interest, so let’s do that first.
LACROSSE: Obviously, item #1 on the docket is the hiring of Rick Sowell as the new lacrosse coach. Sowell comes to Navy by way of Stony Brook, where he went 47-26 over five seasons. The Seawolves won the America East regular season the last two seasons, and won the conference tournament in 2010. Stony Brook was a respectable America East program when Sowell took over, but the 2010 season was the best in the program’s short history, earning the #8 seed in the tournament and advancing to the quarterfinals before dropping a 10-9 decision to top-seeded Virginia. Stony Brook again advanced to the America East finals in 2011 before losing a heartbreaker to Hartford in the final seconds (or second, actually).
I like the hire. If Richie Meade had retired on his own terms instead of being forced to resign, I think most people would share my optimism. Unfortunately, the nature of Meade’s dismissal means that some people aren’t going to give any new coach a chance. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some legitimate questions to be asked, though. Is Sowell the kind of coach that the old-timers had in mind as they spent the last 5 years calling for Meade’s dismissal? He certainly isn’t as accomplished as Meade. He could be when all is said and done, but were the ’60s laxers expecting more of a sure thing? We’ll find out the answer when we see how long it takes for them to start complaining again. And make no mistake, they will; the kind of success that they want isn’t sustainable at many schools, let alone a service academy. Keep in mind that these guys were complaining before the struggles of the last two seasons. I’ll be happy if Sowell matches Meade’s record at Navy.
Some might question whether or not he can, but the basis for some of the criticism of the hire is unfair, in my opinion. While his record at Stony Brook was better, Sowell’s overall record is just a hair over .500 at 86-81. Not all .500 records are the same, though. Sowell took on some thankless jobs. Before taking the helm at Stony Brook, Sowell started the St. John’s program from scratch. Before that, he took over a Dartmouth program that had two winning seasons in the 16 years that preceded him. By the time he left the Big Green, he had won the Ivy League and had notched the program’s first win at Princeton since 1956. Seriously, he won the Ivy League at Dartmouth. I don’t think that can be said enough. They’ve had a steady downhill trend ever since he left. So yes, he’s about .500, but with some of the challenges he took on, that’s an accomplishment.
Everyone knows what I thought about Coach Meade’s dismissal, but none of that matters anymore. The program marches on– the Mids themselves will march on– and I’m excited to see where Coach Sowell can take them. Welcome aboard.
#@$%ING CBS: John Feinstein’s 14 years in the Navy football radio booth have come to an end. After having pitched the idea of an Army-Navy documentary for a while now, he was understandably upset when CBS decided to move forward with a documentary of their own. He says that he isn’t throwing a fit, but to watch CBS working on this documentary in front of him all year would be too much to take.
It’s a little bit like dating a girl for 10 years, getting dumped and then being invited to her wedding. I just don’t want to watch it.
It certainly does sound like a hissy fit, but I’m more than willing to give Feinstein the benefit of the doubt. One, because everyone I’ve ever talked to that knows Feinstein has nothing but nice things to say about him; and two, because I have no idea how much of a slap in the face this is professionally and can’t possibly relate to any of it. I might be a little disappointed in his decision since NAAA stood by John after he dropped an F-bomb on the air, but only a little; it wasn’t that big of a deal.
In fact, I’m actually sort of glad to see him go. I’ve never liked him on the radio. His ability to tell a story makes him a great writer (and probably would have made him a good documentarian for that matter), but that doesn’t translate much to an in-the-booth game broadcast. Yes, he’s a national media voice in a time when there aren’t many others who give a rat’s ass about the Naval Academy. On the other hand, I disagree with just about everything that comes out of his mouth on the air. I don’t know if losing Feinstein will lead to decreased interest in Navy radio broadcasts, but I do know that I’ll do less in-game yelling at people who can’t hear me, so my blood pressure likes the news.
I’m sure Feinstein will be back when he realizes how much he misses the postgame Juicy Juice benders with Socci.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THAT STORY: Showtime is going to air a two-hour documentary on Army-Navy!
SPEAKING OF CBS:They’ll be showing the Air Force game. That’s CBS as in CBS, not the CBS Sports Network as usual. That’s a big deal, but the cherry on top is that the game is now going to be played at noon. TAILGATERS REJOICE. Seriously though, noon game on CBS? The decision to partner with CSTV instead of ESPN looks better every year. Unless the game is preempted by some garbage ACC game locally, in which case I will embark on a murderous rampage (just kidding) (or am I) (I am) (maybe).
OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS: Georgia Tech has become the latest program to be flattened by the NCAA regulatory bulldozer. OK, “flattened” might not be the best way to describe it, but the punishment includes probation, a $100K fine, and forfeiture of all 2009 wins after November 24 (including the ACC championship). The From The Rumble Seat reaction ranges from acceptance to WTF as details of the story became public. Those details can be found here.
If the punishment seems excessive, it is. Remember, though, that Georgia Tech was already on probation when all this was happening, so any violations that happen during the probationary period are going to deliver an extra dose of boomshakalaka. Still, I don’t know if forfeiting Tech’s ACC championship makes sense. The school plans to appeal, and while it will probably be denied like most appeals are in the new NCAA process, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point. The NCAA forces a forfeiture of wins when it finds that ineligible players were used in these contests. While they did find that one of the two investigated players received “preferential treatment” by being given $312 worth of clothes from his cousin’s roommate, the NCAA did not say that either player was ineligible in its report. If either player was in fact ineligible, the NCAA should have made that clear. If they did not determine that the players were ineligible, then Tech shouldn’t have to forfeit any wins. As for the rest of the penalties, meh.
I bring it up because Paul Johnson’s connection might be of some interest to Navy fans. His involvement in all of this is apparently that 1) he was told of the investigation when he shouldn’t have been, and 2) he then told the players in question. I know, rules are rules, but if I was in Johnson’s position I don’t think I would have done anything differently; coaches make their living in part by earning the trust of teenagers. Keeping something like this from them might feel like a betrayal of that trust, and I suspect that part of the reason why the NCAA doesn’t want coaches to know about investigations like this is for the coach’s sake. Still, if it is normal practice for schools to suspend players pending the result of inquiries into their eligibility, how can anyone not know what is happening? That sort of lets the cat out of the bag, doesn’t it? Someone explain it to me.
Anyway, for his part Coach Johnson has been pretty quiet on the subject LOL NO HE’S NOT.
WHAT REALLY SHOULD BE AN NCAA VIOLATION: Army’s duck-hunter uniforms from 2008 were certainly a violation of something. The all-camo getup against VMI had a little more to offer in gimmicky appeal, but didn’t exactly raise the bar aesthetically. Hopefully Nike takes a different direction with the Pro Combat unis they’ll be giving Army and Navy this year.
IN OTHER SERVICE ACADEMY NEWS: Troy Calhoun’s solution for graduation rates? Bribery!
NIUMAT’S CONTRACT EXTENSION: It was really just a down payment for a plane ticket to Guam.
FEINSTEIN’S DREAM DEFERRED: John will have to wait another 15 years for the Navy-Notre Dame series to end. I don’t think he’ll mind playing Marshall, though.
My blog is sort of like the chicken pox virus: causes itchy bumps, then lays dormant for years before stress causes another painful breakout that can only be treated with herpes medication. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If you’re institutionalized and miss the pain, though, don’t forget that you can find me on Twitter even when this place is gathering dust.
Coach Niumat pulls 7 Gs in the back seat of a Hornet, smiles, and shows us his war face. I do one Immelman in a T-34, whimper, and regret having corn chips* with lunch. This is a splendid illustration of the difference between a DAGGONE PACK OF HYENAS FOOTBALL COACH and the average blogging internet nerd.
*Seriously, corn chip barf has a high viscosity; less like the gazpacho-ish consistency of my usual upchuckings and more like a paste. It burns the nose and smells like acrid dog feet.
The latest post-practice presser transcript can be found here. Some thoughts:
Snyder: Can you talk about some of the guys that have really stepped up?
Niumatalolo: One guy in particular is Craig Schaefer at outside linebacker. That is a spot where we are looking for someone to step up and he has had a great spring practice so far. We are also excited about Nate Frazier. He has done some good things. Defensively we have some guys that have played and the guys that played last year have really showed up so far in the spring. You can see the difference between them and the guys that haven’t played. On offense, Jarod Bryant has been solid. We moved Ricky Moore to center and he has had some growing pains, but he is coming along.
Schaefer is a big hitter. It’s nice to see a little buzz about him and Nate. My only real disappointment here is that Ricky Moore is getting a mention, but not Andy Lark or one of the other centers who made the move from the D-line. It would be a huge boost if one of those guys could catch on so we could use Moore at his natural tackle position. Depth could be a big concern at center.
Niumatalolo: I thought Emmett had a good practice on Saturday. With Jarod playing slot back, that is all dependent on Kaipo. Right now he is still nursing he knee so Jarod is mostly playing quarterback. When Kaipo is able to go full speed then Jarod will get some time at slot back.
I really hope Jarod gets some snaps at slot before the spring is over. Spring is the time for tinkering, after all.
Snyder: What is the status of Deliz and Sovie?
Niumatalolo: Deliz is still out, but Clint is practicing and is doing a good job. It doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat. We are excited to have him back. He had a good first week of practice.
Fratto: Last year at fullback Ballard and Kettani kind of rotated possessions. Would you like to do that again or will Kettani get the bulk of the carries?
Niumatalolo: Eric is the main fullback, but we need somebody to spell him. The ratio of plays probably won’t be the same this year as it was for Adam and Eric, but we need a back-up fullback to give Eric some rest and we are trying to figure out who that is going to be.
Despite the preseason buzz about Devan Clark, he hasn’t quite risen to #2 yet. Then again, it’s only been a week.
Snyder: Can you talk about the slot backs? Other than Shun White you have a lot of new faces over there.
I’m surprised to see Bobby Doyle third on the depth chart, only because it seemed like he got some decent playing time last year. Overall, despite the lack of established players I’m pretty confident about the A-backs. Shun White is a proven player with big-play ability. Greg Shinego might not have extensive game experience, but it isn’t as if he’s a rookie with a lot to learn. He’s a senior that has been practicing for three years and waiting for his shot. He’ll be ready. And although it remains to be seen how well Jarod Bryant can adjust to the new position, we know what he can do with the ball in his hands. I’m pretty comfortable with this group, plus our usual bunch of athletic underclassmen waiting for their chance to impress.
But is Andre Byrd really 5-7?
The latest depth chart is here. Lots of movement, especially in the secondary.
Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:
– Unfortunately, this week’s Loose Change leads off with news of the passing of Ben Carnevale. There is nothing that I can say that will possibly do him justice. Carnevale is in many ways the father of Navy basketball, and brought the team to the national stage during his 20 years in Annapolis. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970, and the work that he did after being inducted was just as impressive. The game, and our school, owe him their gratitude.
– Lacrosse is the big story this weekend as Navy will try to get the Georgetown monkey off of its back Saturday in a game that will be shown on CBS College Sports. The Inside Lacrosse preview of the game is here. Navy fans in the know have been reading Christian Swezey’s lacrosse blog and learned that Tommy Phelan will be the starting goalkeeper, with Matt Coughlin still nursing his hamstring injury. The Fastest Blog on 2 Feet also has a scouting report on the game from former Navy player and DeMatha coach Dick Long. Pete Medhurst will be calling the game for WNAV with the pregame show starting at 4:45 ET.
– You Pitch Right expatriates that only stomach this blog because you don’t have a choice anymore will be pleased to see Adam again as he talks about independents’ spring practice news and notes while guest blogging at In The Bleachers.
– David Flores of the San Antonio Express-News catches up with David Robinson, including his take on this year’s tournament, here.
– Marine Captain and former Navy footballer Brian Stan won the WEC light heavyweight title on Wednesday night with a first-round TKO of defending champion Doug Marshall. There was a brief moment when it looked like Stann was in trouble, but he survived a flurry of punches and landed a haymaker of his own, and that’s all it took. You can watch the fight here.
– The Congressional Bowl found a conference partner: the ACC. That’s good news for Navy:
The NCAA requires prospective bowls to have guaranteed opponents, a TV contract, venue and a letter of credit. Metcalf said all those elements are in place, including documents proving the proposed Congressional Bowl can meet its mandate of paying $1 million to each participating school.
Now that everything’s in place, six wins should be enough for the Mids to find a home in the postseason. No word yet on whether the game will be at RFK or the new Nationals’ ballpark.
– And finally, the football post-practice presser makes its glorious return! Those changes in the passing game that Niumat talked about in his presser on Monday? Not exactly an overhaul.
We aren’t making any drastic changes. There might be some technique changes, the way we run our routes, the depth at where we run our routes, what foot we lead with, what shoulder we are looking over, real small intricate details that might help us become a little bit more efficient.
Other than that, Niumat says that practice is going OK and that he’s looking to get Jarod Bryant as many reps at slot as Kaipo’s knee will allow.
Wagner: When he was in at quarterback last year it seemed like you ran a package for him with a lot of inside runs and draws. Running the ball as a slot back is different. Do you think he can be as effective running the ball on the outside?
Niumatalolo: I don’t know. That remains to be seen. We are going to find out. All I know is he makes people miss.
Schmuck was talking about Coach Niumatalolo’s overall coaching philosophy, while Swezey’s article focuses mostly on players There are plenty of changes on the depth chart as spring practice starts. Let’s start at center, which Coach called “our main concern offensively.” Swezey says:
Senior Ricky Moore (Northern) was listed as the starting center when Navy opened spring football practice yesterday, but if the coaches have their way, he won’t stay there long. Coach Ken Niumatalolo said he would prefer to use Moore as a starting tackle. For that to happen, one of the backup centers needs to have a good spring.
The most intriguing candidate is Andy Lark, a 6-foot, 290-pound junior. He is one of the strongest players on the team but spent last year as a reserve nose guard. He did not play as a freshman after he broke his leg.Niumatalolo said Lark is too talented to remain as the third-string nose guard “and get 10 reps a game.”
Coach Niumatalolo was asked by Swezey why Ricky Moore was moved to center, and the first thing he said was “For Air Force.” Then he got into a little more detail. Air Force switched to a 3-4 last year, and in doing so presented an odd (3 or 5-man) front. Notre Dame lined up the same way. In 3 or 5-man fronts, the nose guard is usually lined up in a 0 or 1-technique, meaning that they are lined up either directly over the center, or over his outside shoulder. The one-on-one matchup between the center and the nose guard can be a mismatch, since nose guards are typically… well, huge. I think it took a toll on Antron Harper last year, although I have nothing to back that up other than what I think I saw. Moore is 6-4, 283. Andy Lark is built like a bowling ball at 6-0, 290, and was described by coach Niumat as “maybe the strongest player on the team.” In contrast, Harper was once called the “smallest offensive lineman in I-A” earlier in his career by the SID staff. The added emphasis on size and strength at the center position is an interesting story to follow this spring.
Coach Niumatalolo also mentioned Jarod Bryant’s move to slotback. He’ll still be the #2 quarterback, but “Jarod is too talented to sit on the bench… He’s special with the football in his hands.” That’s also why Bryant will get a shot at returning kicks. Because Reggie Campbell was so effective in the return game last year, finding a replacement is another big priority. Backup fullback is another priority, and Niumat once again mentioned Devan Clark as someone he’s looking to transition from workout star to on-field performer.
When asked about the importance of putting his stamp on the program, Coach Niumatalolo tossed ego aside and said he doesn’t worry about that. “I think the core of the practice will stay the same,” he said. “I just want to make sure I do what’s right for the Program. I don’t care whose idea it was.” But while making his own mark isn’t a priority, the new head coach was very enthusiastic about the “infusion of fresh ideas” from his new assistant coaches. Along those lines, I thought one of Niumat’s most interesting comments came when talking about his offensive philosophy. He stated that he learned his Xs & Os from Paul Johnson, and the option game will look pretty much the same. But “there might be a few changes in the passing game. Not that we’re going to throw the ball more, but just some different ideas.” Coach Niumat credits these ideas to newcomers like Joe DuPaix and Ashley Ingram. One more thing to watch leading up to the spring game.
Anyway, the usual outlets did a great job recapping the press conference:
Overall, it’s clear that Coach Niumatalolo isn’t quite as comfortable behind the podium as Coach Johnson, but that will probably come with time. There was no hiding his enthusiasm, though; on the topic of the Poinsettia Bowl, he commented, “I’m still pissed that we lost.” He was clearly anxious to get started on the field. So am I.
Moving right along…
Bowl game update: The Congressional Bowl is up for NCAA approval next month, and without it, Navy might have a hard time finding a postseason home. That’s because, as you already know, existing bowls all have conference affiliations. But Chet has agreed to send the Mids to Washington pending the game’s approval, which hinges on finding an opponent. Bill Wagner gets into good detail.
Him: A few weeks ago, Brock said he wanted to keep the offense a secret for as long as possible. The only people Brock is hiding the offense from is the Temple football team, Army’s first opponent in 2008. Once Army plays Temple, the big secret would be out. My job is to sniff out the offense before spring practices ends.
Me: You mean “opponent,” Stan, because as soon as you play your first game, everyone’s going to know what your offense looks like. What, exactly, is he hoping to accomplish? To try to pull a fast one on Temple? It isn’t like there won’t be reports all over the internet and in the papers anyway once practice starts.
Him:This isn’t the best move for Brock. Figure he would want as much publicity on his team as possible following its 11th straight losing season in 2007.
Me:Coach Brock needs to be telling anyone who will listen all about the new offense. Give downtrodden Army fans something to be excited about. Generate a little buzz about the the program. This is one of those times when the AD should pull the coach aside, tell him “tough luck,” and start a marketing campaign all about the new-look Army football team.
I guess someone reads this blog after all. That’s OK. Considering that half of my stuff is just snarky comments on other people’s work, I’m not one to talk TOO much about originality…
*Unless the NFL wants you.
Speaking of the asterisk: It didn’t take long for someone to say “wait a minute…” about Army’s new Alternative “Service” Option. This blogger at the South Bend Tribune sees the program for what it is:
Campbell’s opportunity comes from a policy implemented in 2005 “that releases cadets from their five-year active duty commitment if they have ‘unique talents and abilities.’” That conjures images of cadets pedaling unicycles while spinning plates on their noses. “Look, Sarge, no hands!”
The idea is to grant exemptions for graduates who “participate in activities with potential recruiting or public affairs benefit to the Army.”
Recruiting for the battlefield or the football field?
Good question. We all know the answer. Some of you are probably thinking, “yeah, but it’s just some guy with the South Bend Tribune. Who cares?” Do you really think that this guy is the only one who’s going to notice? You haven’t heard the end of this. Not by a longshot. The Army is not going to generate “positive PR” by allowing West Point graduates to skirt their commitment for professional sports.