ANNAPOLIS — It’s challenging enough to play one sport at the Naval Academy.
Brye French is doubling up - and now starting for the Midshipmen at outside linebacker.
The junior, who doubles as a midfielder on Navy’s lacrosse team in the spring, completed his climb from the bottom of the depth chart last month. Saturday, he is likely to make his fifth straight start as the Mids (2-4) play host to East Carolina (2-4).
“When I was younger, I loved playing football and lacrosse. They were my two favorite sports. It’s always kind of been my dream to play both, and the Naval Academy gave me that opportunity. Actually getting to play both is awesome.”
He’s not part of an especially large crowd of Navy athletes who juggle roles on arguably the academy’s two biggest teams. Joe Papetti, a second-team All-America pick in lacrosse in 1985, also played football. Jamie Doffermyre, one of the Mids’ football captains in 1999, lettered in lacrosse for three years.
Beyond that, the crossover over the past quarter-century is effectively nonexistent.
“He’s a special young man,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I think the big part of it is he’s got good football sense. To be able to do both tells you something. But tell me who in the country are able to do both? There’s not many. You have a handful, maybe 20 if that. ch value\="226 128 166"/=
That’s a hard deal to do.”
That doesn’t even account for trying to make up for lost time. French is in the middle of football season when the lacrosse team is going through fall ball. Likewise, lacrosse takes up much of his extracurricular time while the football team goes through spring practice.
Outside linebackers coach Tony Grantham said French comes by the football office two or three times a week during the spring. Those sessions - often roughly 30 to 45 minutes - provided mental engagement but not the practice-field reps the rest of the team picked up in March and April.
French played as a defensive midfielder and faceoff wing in 12 of Navy’s 13 lacrosse games last year. The one price of doing so was a listing with the plebes when camp began.
No matter. By the season opener, French was a backup. And after Mason Graham suffered a knee injury, French took over as a starter when the Mids played at South Carolina on Sept. 17.
“When we first put him out here, everything was happening so quickly,” Grantham said. “He wasn’t up to speed with the other guys in the room yet. For him to be able to catch up to game speed as quick as he has just speaks volumes to the type of player he can be for us.”
French acknowledged during camp the challenge of starting over each year and earning his way back inspires him to find a way onto the field in a significant role. He almost did so last year, playing in three games before a shoulder injury ended his sophomore season.
Given another opportunity, French is thriving. His 27 tackles rank sixth on the team, and he has two tackles for loss and a sack.