Seniors charted course for Navy

1-3 start didn’t derail season

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ANNAPOLIS — Brandon Turner hadn’t witnessed a Navy football season end quite like last year’s did.

Not when Navy recruited him. Not during a year at the academy’s prep school. And certainly not during his first two years with the Midshipmen. 

As the wide receiver’s final year of football commenced in the spring, he and his teammates knew they wanted no part of a rerun.

“The guys I remember looking at and watching on TV and being friends with, those guys always had great seasons and went to a bowl game and beat Army,” Turner said. “So it’s like ‘How are you supposed to feel when you win five games, don’t go to a bowl game and beat Army but you barely beat them?’ That’s really not the tradition or legacy we want to leave.”

Thanks to Turner, captains Brye French and Bo Snelson and the rest of Navy’s senior class, the men who will play their final game for the Mids this weekend won’t have to worry about such a problem.

Navy (8-4) wraps up a bounceback year Saturday when it meets Arizona State (7-5) in the Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. A victory would leave the Mids lacking little as they look back on their season arc.

They wrested back the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first in three years. They topped Army for the 11th consecutive season. They returned to the postseason after a one-year hiatus.

So much of the success stemmed from a group of veterans, some of whom played prominent roles on bowl teams as underclassmen. They not only coveted a return to the annual bowl treks that defined the Mids under Paul Johnson and then Ken Niumatalolo between 2003 and 2010, but also dreaded the prospect of another substandard season.

Yet it wasn’t a overtly brash group; instead, Navy did little chirping as it resurrected its season after a bumpy 1-3 start.

“Instead of their talk, it was their actions that spoke volumes to me — off the field, on the field, just a selfless group, and I think they laid a great foundation for the younger guys who are here,” Niumatalolo said. “This is the pattern: You work your butt off, you keep your mouth quiet and just understand the process. I think some people talk about winning, but I don’t think they understand you have to teach the whole process.”

If French and Snelson were not entirely aware what awaited them when they were voted captains last winter, they knew how they wanted to approach things.

Both men were careful to praise their predecessors and the previous season’s senior class, who departed with a 5-7 season. Yet they also had little interest in allowing the Mids to relax too much, lest such an attitude slip into on-field matters.

In retrospect, it was an ideal season for a leader such as Snelson, a 5-foot-7 firecracker who started the last eight games at slotback. The well-respected and even-keeled French, who juggled both football and lacrosse during his first two years at the academy, was a fine foil.

Together, they helped chart a detail-oriented course for a program that might have lost sight of the source of its long-running success.

“They had really tough job, especially at the beginning of the season,” junior linebacker Cody Peterson said. “They weren’t very popular. They were pretty strict, but they did an excellent job. They really unified the team, and we have a solid foundation because of them.”

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