- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Ken Niumatalolo departed the locker room after Navy’s Oct. 15 loss at Rutgers, and something caught his eye for a fleeting moment

Senior slotback Aaron Santiago, already out for a month and likely for another, was weeping.

“I saw him after the [Rutgers] game in tears,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s not an emotional kid. He’s a very quiet, under-the-radar [guy]. He doesn’t say anything or do anything [loudly], but I saw him with tears. I think he felt like if he was out there, he could have helped us win the football game.”

The Midshipmen’s losing streak has since reached five games, and Navy (2-5) could lose what little margin of error it possesses Saturday when it visits Notre Dame (4-3). Santiago has not played since suffering two broken bones in his forearm — radius and ulna — in the Mids’ Sept. 10 defeat of Western Kentucky.

It was a significant loss for Navy. Santiago, who missed his first games as a junior because of injury, was averaging 6.8 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in the Mids’ first two games.

Junior Gee Gee Greene described Santiago’s injury as “devastating” to the rest of the slotbacks. The prognosis wasn’t particularly welcome, but there was a possibility Santiago could return for the tail end of Navy’s schedule.

Much of Santiago’s efforts in the weeks since the injury were devoted to rehabilitation. But the Mids’ results - all losses - over the past month haven’t made the process easy.

“The pain doesn’t come from me being out,” Santiago said. “The pain comes from seeing my teammates [struggle]. They work so hard throughout the week, and they’re just aren’t rewarded with what we deserve.”

There are hopeful signs on several fronts. Despite Navy’s losing streak, four of its five setbacks have come by a combined eight points, hinting the Mids aren’t too far from earning the results that have helped them reach eight consecutive bowl games.

Meanwhile, Santiago returned to practice last week and began noncontact work and catching pitches. That came a week after a second surgery to correct what he said was to correct a nerve issue.

“It’s keeping his spirits up because he knows he has the ability to come back,” Greene said. “[Last week], he came back and was catching balls and was running good routes. He said he was a little rusty on his plays, but that’s not a big issue.”

There is, after all, still time to make a difference. Regardless of how the next month unfolds, there is still enough time for Santiago to recover and play against Army on Dec. 10 — exactly three months after he broke his arm and faced an initially grim prognosis for the final year of his football career.

“I was keeping hopes up,” Santiago said. “The doctor told me my season was pretty much done. I didn’t want to believe him. Hopefully, I can prove him wrong.”

NOTES:Niumatalolo said sophomore Trey Miller will make his first career start Saturday. Regular starter Kriss Proctor will not play Saturday and might not be available the following week against Troy after dislocating his throwing elbow in last week’s loss to East Carolina.

“He’s pushing for next week, so we’ll see,” Niumatalolo said. “Probably realistically two weeks, but he’s been working hard and getting treatment around the clock, even stuff that he can take with him to his room.”

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