- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

During a normal practice week, Navy’s football team punctuates Monday night by running sprints the width of the practice field and back. These “gassers” can leave the Midshipmen, who pride themselves on conditioning, hunched over and out of breath.

There is another constant every Monday night. Quarterback Aaron Polanco runs ahead of his teammates.

Polanco, a senior from Wimberly, Texas, isn’t a vocal guy. He’s not going to scream at people when they make mistakes or when he wants to see more emotion. But Polanco is the offensive captain, as voted by his teammates, and the unquestioned leader of this Midshipmen team.

“I’d follow Aaron to hell and back,” said senior Tyson Stahl, one of the more vocal players. “He’s a quiet guy, but when he makes a mistake he’ll admit it. When he’s out there he’s got a confidence that’s just beaming. It fills all of us up. Before every game, I go up to him and say, ‘Hey, man, we’re following you today.’”

Before this season, just two quarterbacks had led Navy to a bowl game in the past 22 seasons, and Polanco had the task of replacing one of them. Craig Candeto’s name is everywhere in the Navy record books. He finished second all-time in touchdowns scored and seventh in rushing yards.

Polanco is a different type of player. He is not cast in the same mold as Chris McCoy or Candeto, run-first quarterbacks who have excelled in coach Paul Johnson’s offense. He’s a better passer. Though he has been a bit erratic, when Polanco’s arm complements the option attack Navy is nearly impossible to stop.

“I think there are a lot of ways to lead,” Johnson said. “I think he’s tough and he’s been pretty resilient and I think people respect that. I think in order to have a good leader, people have to respect him. They’ve either got to really like you or be afraid of you or respect you. It’s not all bad if it’s all three.”

At close to 210 pounds, Polanco is bigger than Candeto. He’s able to shrug off tackles where Candeto might have made the defenders miss. Polanco also has been durable, taking every snap this season when the outcome was still in doubt.

Every time Navy runs the option, there’s a good chance Polanco is going to get smacked.

“The guys see the beating I take, but they take a beating, too,” Polanco said. “I guess everybody sees me because the ball is in my hands. They see me after I pitch the ball just get creamed. I have friends from the hall that come up to me after the game and say, ‘I don’t know how you get back up after some of those hits.’”

Polanco is pretty reserved. This year he has been forced into the limelight. As a captain and the starting quarterback, he may lead the team in interview sessions with the media. At the beginning of the fall, Polanco often was nervous and always fidgety while answering questions.

Now Polanco has opened up more as the season draws to a close. Talk to him about his brother, James, and it’s almost like a new personality reveals itself.

James Polanco is also on Navy’s football team, and he’s not hard to pick out. He and Aaron are identical twins — a fact James is reminded of when someone mistakes him for Aaron.

“Every day. Every day,” James said. “I always get compliments and sometimes I just act like I’m him. I just say, ‘Yeah, thanks.’”

Added Aaron: “I don’t think it makes him mad. We’re kind of used to it. At the Notre Dame game, he was in the stands. He said he went from his seat to the corridor where they walked out and people were coming up to him and saying, ‘Hey, good job. Sorry about the game.’ He couldn’t believe it. He was like, ‘It’s been five minutes. There is no way I could have gotten changed.’”

James wanted to come to Annapolis with Aaron after high school, but he said he didn’t get his paperwork done in time. So James spent a year at Texas Tech before getting in to the academy.

They don’t live far from each other in Bancroft Hall. Both say they’re always together. And after a little prodding, there are some good stories about being twins.

“We’ve switched on a girl before,” Aaron said. “We were at a party and I picked her up, and then we were walking in the dark and switched spots and he went off with her.

“He’s always talking about that, so we can do the whole twins thing and pick up girls, but I’ve got a girl now. He’s happy for me, but at the same time, he wants to go play tricks on girls.”

James suffered a broken leg last season, and it hampered his development. While his brother leads the team to victory, he watches.

“That was definitely a pretty big downer,” said James, a reserve defensive back. “My brother’s done well, so it’s cool. As long as he does well, it doesn’t really bother me. I kind of got put behind with my leg. I’m not going to quit or anything. I’ve got to keep playing.”

It is a long way from Wimberly to Annapolis — about 1,660 miles. But when Aaron and James Polanco return home for the holidays, everybody knows where they’ve been.

“It’s weird going back now,” James said. “People are like, ‘Oh, y’all are the Polanco brothers.’ It’s weird. I guess everybody knows who we are.”

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