ANNAPOLIS — It isn’t easy to free up even a half-hour during preseason football camp. Whenever he can, Navy offensive lineman Bradyn Heap knows the best way to utilize it is scouring as much video as possible.
Heap, who entered the month as the Midshipmen’s No. 1 center and is competing with fellow sophomore Tanner Fleming for the starting job, often finds a way to break down film with perhaps the best tutor available: former Navy center Brady DeMell.
DeMell wrapped up his career last year after making 27 starts, including 26 in a row at center. Now in a graduate assistant role with the Mids, he’s a valuable source of counsel for his eventual successors.
“It just helps a lot to have someone who’s been in my shoes to help me guide through the game process,” Heap said.
There’s a practical component on the field, where the offensive line coaching duties are split between Chris Culton (tackles) and Ashley Ingram (centers and guards). DeMell’s presence allows even greater individualized attention during practice for the interior linemen.
There couldn’t be someone more familiar with the offense; DeMell’s 27 starts over the last three years were matched by only one other offensive player (senior slotback Gee Gee Greene).
“We trust him,” Ingram said. “We’ve coached him for five years counting the prep school year, so he knows exactly how we want things done. And also, just being a guy that can help mentor these guys. In the film study, he can sit down with them if we’re in other meetings. It’s been a huge help to have him here.”
Realistically, DeMell’s greatest impact comes from simply providing a sounding board. DeMell emphasized to Navy’s inexperienced linemen the best way they can get better is to ask questions, whether of him or assistant coaches.
It’s how he approached things with Patrick Snow, a center who graduated a year ahead of him.
“His wisdom to me and now to Bradyn or Tanner or whoever is in there, I think that’s just a part of the brotherhood and helping out the next generation,” DeMell said. “I can’t do it anymore, and I want to try and get as much of my knowledge that I know from the game from my experience into them so it keeps going @ the same standard we have.”
That’s especially true of Heap’s challenging position. He played center throughout his high school career, as well as a year at the academy’s prep school, before moving to tackle on the scout team as a plebe. In the spring, he shifted back to center and had 15 practices to reacquaint himself with the role.
Still, he did not play at all last season (neither did Fleming), and there will be some natural anxiety over breaking in a player with no game experience who must touch the ball on every snap.
“He’s a young guy, and he needs some work,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He needs to continue to progress. He’s a smart kid, but that’s a tough position. We’re just trying to get him acclimated to playing in there. He has all the tools. He just has to find a way to get it done.”
Heap understands at this stage, the most he can do before Navy’s Sept. 1 opener against Notre Dame is produce in practice and learn as much as possible. And that means turning to DeMell as much as possible to prepare for what it’s like to play center for the Mids.
“He knows this offense better than anybody I know — when it comes to reading the D-linemen, when it comes to your steps, everything,” Heap said. ” As much as I can, I try to get in the film room with him and watch our practices, watch last year’s games, just learn all the basics and move up. Basically, it’s picking his brain on everything he knows about the offense.”