- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — This early August practice session was supposed to be fairly uneventful for David Sumrall. Locked into a competition for Navy’s left tackle position, Sumrall was in the middle of what coaches would later say was one of his best practices with the Midshipmen.

The senior played well in the spring, at least until a concussion sidelined him for the first time in his football career. But the summer went well, and so had the start of camp. A career reserve, Sumrall was getting ever closer to playing.

Navy called a pass out to the right. Sumrall blocked for two seconds and then sprinted full speed to handle his assignment of cut blocking a cornerback. He made contact, only for the corner’s knee to hit the crown of Sumrall’s helmet.

“A week into camp, I get another one and that really freaked me out a little bit,” Sumrall said of his second concussion. “It made me nervous again. I’m a man of faith, and I really prayed about it and left it up to God, and I think I came back from it stronger.”

Navy took plenty of precautions, holding Sumrall out for two weeks before permitting him to resume practicing. Last week, he played 61 of 66 offensive snaps at left tackle in the Mids’ 40-17 defeat of Delaware to open the season.

Saturday, Sumrall is expected to start again over Andrew Barker and Graham Vickers as Navy visits Western Kentucky (0-1).

“I think he has come a long way,” offensive tackles coach Chris Culton said. “He has not arrived. This is a week-to-week thing. That’s for everybody. It’s not like anything is set in stone. Everything’s written in clay and pencil.”

Sumrall is well-aware, especially after seeing the impact of concussions on former teammate Matt Molloy, whose career ended last year midway through his senior season after a series of concussions. One of Molloy’s concussions came on an identical play as the one that sidelined Sumrall last month.

Sumrall said the second concussion wasn’t as severe as the first, but he knew what happened as soon as it occurred.

“I didn’t lose total memory like I did with my first concussion,” Sumrall said. “I do remember hitting and everything just went black. I was awake, but I just couldn’t see straight. I got up and I couldn’t stand up real well. I knew right away I had a concussion.”

The academy’s stringent (and wisely precautionary) guidelines on head injuries meant Sumrall lost about half of the preseason before returning to practice earning the starting job in the week before the opener. The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native — who will play a little less than 100 miles from home Saturday — acknowledged some jitters after playing primarily on special teams the previous two years.

He settled in quickly Saturday while playing with four returning offensive line starters. Together, they didn’t commit a penalty or allow a sack against Delaware.

“I guess he hid it pretty well,” left guard Josh Cabral said. “I think he told me he was pretty nervous, but he seemed pretty calm. Maybe it’s like a duck on the pond — looks calm, but underneath it’s kicking.”

Sumrall described his play as decent, and he hoped a solid game could help earn respect from the incumbent starters. While Culton stressed Sumrall must continue to improve, he acknowledged if Sumrall continues to develop, the game reps that are impossible to fully replicate in practice could allow the senior to create some distance at the position.

Still, the opener was a moment to savor on its own.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t had that much fun playing football since high school because I hadn’t had that start,” Sumrall said. “I might have played in games, but that brought back some good feelings of ‘This is why I play the game.’ It was awesome.”

Coach Ken Niumatalolo noted the competition at left tackle will continue and that Sumrall must play well to retain the job even though it’s his position at the moment. One thing Niumatalolo can count on: Sumrall won’t give back his well-earned job because of hesitance over suffering another injury.

“I’m not going to hold back on my play just because I’m afraid of a concussion,” Sumrall said.