For Navy, Football is a Launching Point; Not the Destination

By Patrick Maks on August 27, 2014 at 8:35a
55 Comments

When Ohio State trickles onto the field for pre-game warm-ups Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, Ken Niumatalolo will be somewhere – anywhere – where the Buckeyes are out of sight and out of mind. It’s for his own sake.

“I don’t come out during warmups. Some coaches think it’s because I’m not social, it’s because I don’t want to see the opponent,” the Midshipmen head football coach told Eleven Warriors in July.

“I don’t want to be like, ‘Holy smokes, I knew they were big, but I didn’t think they were that big.’”

For Navy, this is a near-weekly reality come game day. It will be especially true this weekend against Urban Meyer’s talented bunch, which is ranked fifth in The Associated Press’s top 25 poll.

“Guys that we play are bigger, faster and stronger. We give up 60 or 70 pounds to people. Guys are always faster than us,” he said. “We don’t have any three-star, four-star or five-star guys, and we’re going to open up with a team that’s filled with five-star guys.”

Niumatalolo, a proud Hawaiian who wears flip flops to work, is refreshingly candid about challenges of winning games at a service academy. He’s the third-winningest coach in school history.

“There are things here that are inherent to this place that make it tough, and I embrace that,” he said. “Most schools don’t tell you what to wear and to shine your shoes.”

Indeed, there are few schools quite like the United States Naval Academy, one of the most prestigious, grueling centers for academia and leadership training in the world. It’s easy, then, to understand why Niumatalolo's constant search for football talent is an uphill battle that’ll never get any less steep.

“Anywhere you recruit, you’re selling what you have. If you’re Ohio State, you say you can play at one of the top schools in the country. From that standpoint it’s the same. At Navy, you sell that you’re coming to a great Ivy League type of school, career opportunities and a prestigious academy,” he said.

“But right off the bat, your recruiting pool is cut in half because of academics. From that pool, it’s cut in half with who wants to serve in the military.”

Naturally, scouring the nation for prospective players and, consequently, prospective officers in the United States Navy, is an arduous and serious affair. It’s a give and take that more often than not makes it hard for Niumatalolo's teams to realistically compete against outsized opponents like Ohio State when it comes to the big picture. The Midshipmen probably aren’t going to be vying for a spot in the first-ever, four-team college football playoff this season.

But on game days, Navy’s rigorous admission standards seem to lend itself to a fighting chance against the Buckeyes and other power football programs that churn out NFL draft picks like the Midshipmen mold military leaders.

“If we were to go to a combine testing 40s, bench and verticals, our team probably wouldn’t test high. But if we were to test character and integrity, there’s no doubt in my mind we’d be at the top,” Niumatalolo said.

“At some schools, they use the words toughness and discipline and that kind of stuff, and they are clichés. They are real here. They are real vibrant things.”

Added Niumatalolo: “We may not be as fast as guys, but we’re going to coach the crap out of the integrity part and the discipline part. Hopefully that side will help offset us being a little slower. They’re going to do their job exactly the way you want to do it. We’re a program filled with leaders.”

And that, of course, is the crux for why Meyer and Ohio State don’t appear to be asleep at the wheel while preparing for Navy.

“These guys are guys who are trained to be fearless and they’re trained to be relentless all the time so we know that we have to go full-go the whole game,” junior linebacker Joshua Perry said Monday.

In 2009, the Buckeyes slipped past the Midshipmen, 31-27, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus after surrendering 13 fourth-quarter points. The game remained in doubt until former linebacker Brian Rolle intercepted a two-point conversion and returned it to the house with less than three minutes to play. The fear such a collapse could happen again is real.

“We understand that if we get up on them early, we got to keep it full throttle, we can't let up. We saw four or five years ago, they came in our place and almost shocked us,” junior tight end Nick Vannett said. “We understand how they are as a football team.”

To understand that, you must understand, for Navy, football is a launching point – not a destination.

“Everyone wants to win football games, but each and every one of our guys is going to serve our country. They’re going to be leaders of men and women,” Niumatalolo said.

“I’m a firm believer in what you learn in football – toughness, discipline – they help you in life. I’ve been here long enough to see guys go through here and see who they become. I have guys flying the helicopter for the president, there are Blue Angels and SEALs. It’s a pretty cool place to coach.”

Launching point. Not the destination.

“Football is a game, what they do is life and death,” Perry said.

“They’re gonna come with their best shot every time. They’re going to play a full game and we have to expect that. They might not be the biggest guys or the strongest guys, but they’re going to come at you.”

55 Comments

Comments

Orangeslash's picture

You're not supposed to make me like our enemies, Patrick.

+23 HS
What Would Troy Smith Do's picture

Navy doesn't qualify as an enemy.  None of the service academies do.

+15 HS
doodah_man's picture

Uhhh...that was a thing called a metaphor. 

Jim "DooDah" Day
It is hard to play dirty against a man who picks you up.

+2 HS
What Would Troy Smith Do's picture

Not so sure metaphor was the word you wanted there but I did understand the humor behind the statement.  I wasn't getting on to him about describing Navy as an enemy.

+2 HS
doodah_man's picture

metaphor???
[met-uh-fawr, -fer]  Spell Syllables
Examples Word Origin
noun
1.
a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.”.

2.
something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.

Jim "DooDah" Day
It is hard to play dirty against a man who picks you up.

-3 HS
JollyFatMan's picture

Exactly.

Go Navy a little bit less then Go Buckeyes. 

How firm thy friendship..

+2 HS
mrinder83's picture

I have so much respect for these guys and all that they do for us as americans and all service members as well, it is the reason why I hate playing them.  I think it affects the way you coach and play in a game.  It almost cost tressel a few years ago, he got up on them but did not want to embarrass them and it ended up taking our guys out of the flow of the game when they started making their comeback.  I am not saying this will be the same as meyer like larger leads but I just don't see him going out to embarrass them like how he did to penn state.  I could see this game being a lot like buffalo last year, where he gets to 40 and then coasts to the finish

mrinder

+2 HS
Buckeye414's picture

“Football is a game, what they do is life and death,” Perry said

Glad to see that the guys in the scarlett and grey are showing an understanding of how special it is to walk the field with the young men who serve our country. Hopefully no one in the stands chants to rip anyone F-in heads off when we kick off.

-Go Bucks!

+8 HS
YTOWNBUCKI's picture

As a recent veteran of the World's Finest and Most Powerful Navy I love to read things like this.  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea! 

"If you root for Michigan, the terrorists win."

+18 HS
osu78's picture

I was there for that. John Glenn, after professing his love for Ohio and the Buckeyes, said he had a special place in his heart for the Navy as well, opened his jacket and pointed to his Wings of Gold. 

The game was a great experience as well, from the teams running on the field together to the flyover and the ending.

I am also a Navy vet and will be wearing my Ohio State hat with a Navy crest pined to it. I am looking forward to a great game with a fine bunch of young men.

Fair winds and a following sea,

+11 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I respect the hell out of our service academies.  Here's to a clean, hard fought game.

Read my entire screen name....

+15 HS
apack614's picture

Great write up Patrick! I love that our guys understand how special it is to play on the same field as these guys!

"If we worked half as hard as our band, we'd be champions." - Woody Hayes

+2 HS
MN Buckeye's picture

Ken N. has done an outstanding job at Navy. And the fact he enjoys the incredible challenges speaks to HIS character.

+9 HS
D-Day0043's picture

Absolutely. He is a damn fine coach. I've got nothing but respect for that guy and what he has accomplished. Very few people could do what he does and be successful. 

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

QBYBuckeye's picture

I attended the Coast Guard Academy back in '67 and '68 (Between Otto Graham stints), but left for medical reasons during my Swab year.  I have an enduring affection for the Military Academies and the young cadets and midshipmen who have dedicated their lives to serving our country.

BUT

On Saturday I will be cheering for the Buckeyes.  It would be different if it were war.

Anchors aweigh.  Go Buckeyes.

New York Buckeye

+6 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Salute!  What an honor to play with or against those guys...

+1 HS
BrutusB's picture

This is still one of my all time favorite entrances.  Hope the teams do something similar this weekend:

+17 HS
JSTANBUX25's picture

BrutusB - Awesome, thanks for sharing.  Brings a tear to my eye to see the level of respect and class shown by the Bucks.  Makes me proud to be a fan.

How Firm Thy Friendship...O-HI-O

+3 HS
Barnsey69's picture

I agree, it was a nice surprise and I will always remember that moment. The game was so much tighter than it was supposed to be, but in retrospect, I think that just added to the experience. I probably didn't feel that way during the 4th quarter, but glad for the entire experience now.

GO BUCKS! GO NAVY! (after this Saturday).

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes!

VarsityClubMD's picture

“Football is a game, what they do is life and death,” Perry said.

Great article, thank you.  Navy has always been my second favorite team.  My dad was a high school football coach and one of his players from the 70's went to USNA to play.  I first set foot on the campus in the late 70's when he got married in the Academy Chapel and I was a fan for life after that.  Then, my best friend and QB (I was also his center all six years of jr. high and high school) went to USNA to play football and settled in Annapolis after his service.  My visits there while he was in school only further cemented my fandom of USNA.  

Seriously, if you ever get the chance, take a visit to USNA, it is an impressive place.  All the better if you can make it for a home football game. You'll become a fan, too.

Go Bucks, Beat Navy! Go Navy, Beat Everybody Else!

Dot this

+4 HS
The Butler's picture

Agreed, VCMD. I love the Naval Academy. I am fortunate enough to have a relative live directly across the Chesapeake Bay from the Naval Academy (on a clear day, we can see the dome on the chapel in which you were married). We have visited campus dozens of times and have taken in a game too. Neat to watch the Midshipmen march into the stadium - and the plebes do push-ups after every score. I was standing outside on the eastern shore of the bay on a football Saturday and out of nowhere came three jets - F-16's I assume - up the bay, and at a seemingly right angle, turn and fly over the stadium in Annapolis. It looked as if I could reach out and touch the jets, they were so low. Truly an awe inspiring moment.

Like you, my second favorite team is Navy. 

I've trained Canaries in the sport of falconry.

 

+1 HS
osu78's picture

Probably F/A-18's. F-16's are Air Force.

+4 HS
JSTANBUX25's picture

Terrific piece.  Those Navy players are fine young men and deserve all the credit in the world for their commitment to serving our country.  That being said...GO BUCKS!!

How Firm Thy Friendship...O-HI-O

mphillips87's picture

I can't wait to be at this game on Saturday.  I respect the hell out of Navy because...America!

Also hoping for a kick-ass flyover...

+2 HS
CC's picture

They fly over my house before the games, but haven't done it for the last couple years (budget cuts I guess).  It was really cool in 2012(?) because their games started at the same time as the OSU games, so I got a personal fly-over to start watching Buckeye games!

CC's picture

I can see the water tower over Navy Marine Corps stadium as I write this.  It would have been amazing to see OSU vs. Navy here, but in the end 40k just isn't going to cut it when the bugs come to town.

The stadium has a mixture of NFL (it's really nice) and Ivy League (it has references back to the 1800's).  It has the names of battles, past heroes, classes, gradutates etc everywhere.  It's a really cool place to watch a game and the only place I've ever been that had the same level of pomp for a game as OSU.

They speak of Army like we speak of Michigan.  I loved going to the Cal game and seeing the Cal fan's faces when we were singing "I don't give a damn", they did the same thing for Army when they were playing Pitt.

+2 HS
Buckeyejohn's picture

Personally, I think this game will end up being more important than the VT game next week. Service academies never quit and will play every down like it is their last! I know this won't happen, but I wish Navy could join the Big Ten. I think people would be surprised at how well they would perform. Navy will test our grit tomorrow all game long, but I think Ohio State wins it in fourth quarter. Team will walk away tough and well prepared for VT game next week. VT may be more talented than Navy, but Navy will bring a toughness that only a team like MSU can match. Should be an excellent game. Go Bucks!

+2 HS
Barnsey69's picture

It will be a fine test for our defense and Mr. Barrett. 

The service academies are a wonderful, and unique part of our collegiate culture. It truly takes a special individual to make that type of commitment.

GO BUCKS! GO USA!

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes!

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Graduates of the US Naval Academy also have the option to become Marine Officers as well as Navy Officers.  There are also exchange programs with the Army and Air Force to become an officer in either the Army or Air Force, and I believe on some occasions, graduates have become Coast Guard officers as well.

As an Army Veteran, I only wish that the Army team could muster the discipline and fight that Navy has continued to have.  Watching them get embarrassed every year is disheartening.

+3 HS
German Buckeye's picture

Concur.  West Point is a top 10 US News and World Report College, hard to get into (better be in good with your local Senator) and military comittment.  Don't understand why we can't get some decent ballers though.  I would argue we embody discipline and fight just as much as the squids, but haven't been able to get players over the past decade.  Also would argue that if you visit West Point in the fall, you'll not find a better atmosphere and beautful campus to watch a game.  Go Bucks and Army Strong!

+2 HS
TheRoot's picture

Check out these guys. Written by a couple USMA grads, I think. Lots of good insight into the new Army team's development.

http://gfor3.com/2014/07/27/animal-farm/

Buckeye419er's picture

Growing up in a household with a Marine father, Marine brother, and a niece that is currently serving in the Navy I have nothing but the utmost respect for our service men and women. Although our favorite team to cheer for on Saturdays this fall may be wearing scarlet and grey a small part of my heart will be with the men across the trenches this particular Saturday. 

doodah_man's picture

Not a single douchebag booing. It was a great afternoon and they made a game of it.

Jim "DooDah" Day
It is hard to play dirty against a man who picks you up.

+2 HS
The Vest-er's picture

Too much love for the Squids in this comment section.  I work with too many "Boat School" graduates.  I hope the Bucks beat them by 50.<------------------ Said entirely in jest.  But no, seriously, by 50. :)

Fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.

+5 HS
Patriot4098's picture

Marine?

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac

The Vest-er's picture

But of course.

Fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.

+2 HS
Patriot4098's picture

I'm AF. Plenty of respect for you all and what you do. Sincerely, thank you!

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac

Catfish Biff's picture

People might change their tunes when some of our D line gets injured from Navy's cut blocks.

..Til' we wobble in our shoes!

+2 HS
Angry Panda's picture

Much respect for those Men on Navy's sideline. But Still....Go Bucks!!

jamesrbrown322's picture

This is EXACTLY why the Army-Navy game is always a can't miss. I NEVER miss that game. I love the fact that these are two teams who quite literally, and without a doubt, play for the love of the game, and unquestionably, will do something far more important with their lives than play football.

Think D-I athletes have it so tough because they go to school, play football, and don't have time to make extra money by working outside jobs? Ask a player at Air Force, Army, or Navy what they think about that. I always hope that Army's, Air Force's, or Navy's only loss in any given year (other than to each other) is to OSU, otherwise, its best to root for them in every single game. After all, they have earned it.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

+3 HS
klfeck's picture

If the game is away, it should have been played at Annapolis. Would have been much more special to their guys and ours. To hell with attendance if it's not in a 100k+ stadium.

Kevin

OH!!!!!

Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

+1 HS
klfeck's picture

Just remember, at every game, when they sing the Star Spangled Banner, we are all on the same team. Some of us (Navy) are just paying a higher price.

Kevin

OH!!!!!

Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

+2 HS
HilltopHustle's picture

Wasn't Niumatalolo one of the finalists for the Penn State job in 2012, before Bill O'Brien got it? I remember the rumors. He's done a great job.

nvbuckeye's picture

As a former student at THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, a life long Buckeye fan, and a former enlisted member of THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE, I find it really hard to root for Navy.  However, as a U.S. military veteran I do root for our service academies in every other game that they play in (especially against that prep school in South Bend).  This Saturday will be a great challenge for the Scarlett & Gray just because of who they play and how Navy plays.  I hope the Buckeyes are as ready as they say because each and every player will need to give his best on Saturday.  Like all the comments here, it will be a great game, a great atmosphere and a great opponent.

GO BUCKEYES!!!!!

+1 HS
TheRoot's picture

I despise Navy to the core of my being. As a USMA grad, I have no choice. I relish in loathing the sea-faring squidbillies. Go Bucks. Also, Navy has multiple three-star recruits.

+2 HS
Patriot4098's picture

Y'all are a rare breed. And that sums up why I joined the AF. Lol

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac

+1 HS
SHAKENBAKE68's picture

Let's Go Bucks! "Deck" Somebody!!

There is no such thing as "friendly fire"..

BuckeyeChief's picture

Go Bucks! I was recently stationed with one of the Lineman from the Academy who played in that game, class act, great Officer.

 

"Damn I miss El Guapo"

kiker1's picture

Watch the roster introduction the majority say they are becoming Marine officers. The ones going navy are more into dungeons and dragons

Nick's picture

Marines kick ass, but the Navy is what makes the USA a world power.

+1 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

That and a pair of testicles.

Homey1970's picture

Screw them!  I'm a proud OSU and OTS grad and a 21 year (and counting) Service member, who's served in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Until any cadet graduates and earns his/her butter bars, they're just going through a four year leadership lab.  Don't forget, many who enroll, never graduate (e.g., Anthony Schlegel).  Go Bucks!!! Kick Navy's ass. 

+1 HS
Spivan's picture

I'm a Buckeye all the way, but someday those will be my brothers. Can't help but want the best for them.

Crumb's picture

Mad respect to Navy but I will root against them twice this season. Go Bucks and Go Army beat Navy!

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

dubjayfootball90's picture

Playing service men and the armed forces is awesome. You know, no matter what, they are going to giving their all because they are trained to do that. They are trained to never quit. Even though they are outmatched on the field, their heart and attitude can keep them in games and win many. I am so pumped for this game; not because football is back, but you get to play an opponent that is not going to lay down even though they know they are less talented (athletically, Lord knows these Men and Women are the real deal). You have to respect the fact that no matter what, you are going to get their best.

Good to see Joshua Perry understand what he will be up against. The moment you let your guard down, that is the moment an armed forces member is smiling. Got you right where they want you. Going to be a great game (hopefully similar to the result a few years ago, but different path with less lead erosion).

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.