ANNAPOLIS — Alexander Teich received one of the greatest honors of his life one day in early October. The Navy offensive captain's hopes of receiving a special warfare service assignment — more commonly known as a Navy SEAL — were fulfilled.
A few hours later, he learned something much less welcome: He would sit out the Midshipmen's next game for his actions immediately after an overtime loss to Air Force.
Perhaps the best and worst moments of Teich's time were compressed into one day. How he handled that happenstance arguably defined his time with the academy's football program and amplified his standing in the Mids' locker room.
"It was definitely the toughest week I've had here at the academy since I've been here," Teich said. "You felt like your heart had been ripped out of you because you love being out there with the guys. I was sitting there in my room looking down, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm not a part of this.' You realize how much you love the game and how much you love your teammates, and how much you respect the game at the same time."
Teich caps his career at Navy on Saturday, when the Mids (4-7) meet Army (3-8) at FedEx Field. He'll join fellow captain Jabaree Tuani at midfield for the opening coin toss and will undoubtedly carry his trademark boundless energy into Navy's huddle for one final afternoon.
In an autumn full of lessons at Navy, Teich's is one of the most high-profile. The Texan rarely holds back. He can't, not as a fullback in the Mids' triple-option offense. Play after play, possession after possession, week after week, he hurls his 6-foot, 217-pound frame up the middle. Dive after dive after dive after dive.
It is thoroughly appropriate. At a program built on selflessness and toughness, a man playing one of the most selfless and toughest positions is the leader of leaders on offense. It's a no-nonsense job, and Teich brings plenty of emotion to bear on the field.
Every so often, too much. After an Oct. 1 overtime loss to Air Force when an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty proved costly in the extra session, Teich described the call as "pitiful." A few days later, coach Ken Niumatalolo said Teich would miss the Mids' game with Southern Mississippi.
"There's a lot of positives that comes along with [his personality], and this happens to be one of those negatives that happened to get magnified because of the stage that it happened on," fullbacks coach Mike Judge said. "If it happened at another school or after a practice, no one would know about it. But it happened. It was on TV and radio. It got magnified. It's kind of like Mike Gundy with his 'I'm 40' rant and rave. If that doesn't make it to YouTube, nobody cares about it."
Not so at Navy. Teich spoke with close friends Doug Furman and Kriss Proctor, fellow starters on offense. He discussed the situation extensively with his father, Patrick.
It was a vital moment, one he ultimately chose to embrace. He was on the sideline for the Southern Mississippi game, doing what he could to help his fellow fullbacks. By the time he returned from suspension the next week, he had further cemented his status in the Mids' locker room.
"Once he sat down and realized his situation, I thought he took it very maturely," Furman said. "I don't know if I would have handled the same situation as he did. I might have let my temper get in the way. For him as the captain, he looked back and said, 'I'm the captain of this team. I have to handle this as mature as possible.' "
Ultimately, it was the only response Teich knew would be correct.
"You have to make an example out of a leader sometimes, and I understand that," Teich said. "How do you respond being that leader? I felt I did that with a real positive attitude. You want to be mad, but you don't want to bring that negative. You can't bring that cancer into the locker room. You can't have that around your guys."
Now or in the future.
For the rest of the fall, Teich was his usual steady self. He enters Saturday with 790 yards and three touchdowns, and he surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for his career last month.
"There's no question he's maximized if not overachieved his potential," Judge said. "He's the kind of guy who could be a really good football player, but because of what he's done on and off the field, he's become a great football player for us. ... He by far has exceeded the expectations we've had here for him."
More importantly, he met expectations during his toughest time at the academy, providing evidence he was more than worthy of his service assignment.
Last week, Teich described what awaited him after graduation, notably the chance to lead men with personalities like his own. When the prospect of a room filled with people who approach life like he does was floated, Teich grinned.
"Sounds pretty fun. Sounds like a good time," Teich said. "I think it'd be an honor to lead guys like that, guys that have a Type-A personality that you don't have to motivate as much because they're already motivated. They want success."
Just like the guy who ultimately made the best out of both the good and bad from a wild, emotional day in early October.
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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