ANNAPOLIS – The questions came Saturday, one after another, as Navy’s erstwhile football captains were asked to revisit the fact they were stripped of their position over the summer by academy officials.
Linebacker Brye French and slotback Bo Snelson dutifully acknowledged during their team’s media day they messed up, even without describing what act led them to lose their elected leadership position. Teammates noted French and Snelson remained critical to the Mids’ preparation for this season even without a title.
It was a fascinating dynamic, one unlikely to be duplicated almost anywhere else in the country. It is debatable how important a captaincy or how much of an honor it is in most programs. And pick a big-time school, and most probably wouldn’t place French and Snelson on a podium to answer questions about the issue just three days after it was first revealed publicly.
It made for a riveting session, and the subject felt like it consumed more time than any other. More than new starting quarterback Trey Miller. More than Navy’s response to the end of its eight-year bowl streak last season. Mundane position battles were a mere afterthought.
After digesting and contemplating the full half-hour of give-and-take at the podium, it prompted a question guided by both from a contrarian streak and a bit of curiosity: Was too much being made of this?
“I don’t think so,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “It’s a big deal to be a captain here. We have captains that no longer are captains. We understood that when it happened that it was going to get a lot of media and get a lot of attention. I’ve talked to our captains about that. They made some poor choices and they have to face the music. Take your punishment and hopefully move on. I told them it’s going to be rough in the beginning because people will be like ‘Hey, why aren’t you a captain?’”
Niumatalolo was prescient. It was also a somewhat easy prediction to make considering how much Niumatalolo raved about the leadership provided by French, who juggled two sports for much of his academy career, and Snelson, the fiery son of a successful Texas high school coach.
But the bulk of the attention stems from the place where it occurred and the sort of expectations that seem to accompany attending a service academy rather than a civilian school.
A consequence of the external demands, fair or not, is accountability both French and Snelson publicly embraced.
“Obviously, everybody wants to know,” Snelson said. “Everybody back home wants to know. I had to explain it to my mom and dad, and even then I had to explain it a couple times before they actually not really understood, but finally accepted what had happened. As far as explaining to those on the outside looking in, that’s understandable. I don’t feel like I have a right to get upset or get irritated with that because those are the decisions I made. I’m in a position where that’s been brought into the light, and as a man I have to stand up and answer for those things.”
For now, Navy will go with game captains, sending two different players to midfield at the start of each contest. It will be an opportunity for the likes of Josh Cabral and Gee Gee Greene and Tra’ves Bush and Matt Warrick to share the game-day responsibilities usually owned by just two men.
It will also be a minor reminder of a misstep. Saturday, though, French and Snelson made it a point to own up to their mistakes before steering the conversation back to the entire roster, one that has adopted the acronym INAM (It’s Not About Me) as a guiding force for the season.
“I can understand the knowledge of trying to figure out what’s going on,” French said. “Something Bo and I talked about was ‘Let’s focus on the team. Focus on Navy football instead of Bo and Brye.’ … It’s just a distraction. You never want to do that right before the season, but people make mistakes and you learn from them.”
Neither French nor Snelson believed the issue was being overanalyzed. To them, though, the greater issue was ensuring their offseason transgressions didn’t impact the Mids’ season.
Snelson believes the early returns during camp suggest there will be no lingering problems, even if there are not permanent captains.
“As a team, we’ve taken it in and said we’ve internalized it and moved forward,” Snelson said. “So talking to the outside looking in, that’s one thing. If it was continually being brought up in-house, then we would have a problem. But I definitely feel like we’ve already moved past that and we’re ready to get on with the season regardless of who’s got what stripes and who’s walking out for the coin toss.”