ANNAPOLIS — Keegan Wetzel is one of the brightest people on Navy’s football roster, with a 3.89 grade-point average at the rigorous academy an obvious giveaway.
There are reminders for his fellow linebackers every day during meetings as well.
“I can definitely see it,” sophomore linebacker Chris Johnson said. “He knows the plays better than any of us. He’s a real smart kid. He probably has the highest grade-point average in the room. He knows a lot. He knows both positions, and you can see it — he knows all his assignments, all his keys and checks. We all look to him.”
As for Wetzel, he has his eyes on other outside linebackers who thrived as one-year starters for the Midshipmen.
Craig Schaefer entered his senior year in 2009 with two career starts. He went on to share the team lead in tackles for loss (8.5) that season. Jerry Hauburger couldn’t stay healthy and never started until his senior season, but he rolled up a 73-tackle year in 2010.
Consider Wetzel’s background a mix of both. He did start last year, subbing for the injured Jarred Shannon in the Mids’ second game of the season. However, he suffered a concussion and, while he finished the first half after the injury, played only sparingly on defense the rest of the season.
With just one year left to make an impact, Navy’s recent outside linebacker history is comforting.
“I take a lot from that,” said Wetzel, who continued to see time on the kickoff and punt return units after receiving his post-concussion clearance. “Looking at guys who have had success here, I think I’m very similar to them. I’m hoping I can do more.”
Not that he didn’t try a year ago. He made six tackles (one for loss) against Western Kentucky, an encouraging starting debut. They remain his only career tackles as Navy approaches its Sept. 1 opener against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland.
“I was ready to keep rising from that for the rest of the season,” Wetzel said. “Not being able to get back on the field was really tough. Any player would say they want to be out there. I like to see my teammates do well. I was happy Tra’ves [Bush] was playing well and Brye [French] was playing well and that they were helping the team, but I wasn’t going to let my guard down.”
He remains alert this month, especially with no established players among Navy’s other outside linebackers. Bush switched back to safety, and French was moved to inside linebacker in the spring. Wetzel is the only outside linebacker on the depth chart with even one career start.
Of course, that’s worked just fine for Navy before, and both the Mids and Wetzel hope it does again.
“That’s the plan,” outside linebackers coach Tony Grantham said. “That’s kind of the path he’s on. He’s really worked his tail off to this point, and we’re really excited for him. We’re a long ways away from Sept. 1, obviously, but he’s definitely headed down the right path.”
NOTES: Coach Ken Niumatalolo said wide receiver Matt Aiken was due to undergo an MRI exam after injuring his knee in Saturday’s scrimmage. “He got a little fluid in there,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s walking gingerly. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”
With Aiken out, junior Shawn Lynch worked with the first team Monday morning in Aiken’s place. Lynch switched from wideout to safety after his freshman season and started five games last year, then moved back to receiver last spring.
“I don’t want to say surprise, because we thought he had the tools, but probably the most consistent wide receiver we’ve had,” Niumatalolo said. “Overall, it’s probably one of the best camps of individual players.”
The Mids list six kickers as co-starters, affirming Navy isn’t much closer to settling on an option for field goals and extra points than it was when camp opened nearly two weeks ago.
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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 email@example.com.
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