“We got that burning desire that, ‘Hey this is starting to go like the 2011 season and we don’t want that,’ so we turned it around,” senior wide receiver Brandon Turner said. “Actually, I wouldn’t say turn it around. We got it started.”
The foundation for a bounceback season was laid far earlier. Linebacker Brye French and slotback Bo Snelson, elected captains before spring practice began, prioritized discipline and details and accountability. All were in abundant supply when Navy won 10 games during their plebe year.
Facing a trek west, it was a team with three losses but the certainty its record did not accurately reflect its ability.
“That wasn’t like that just happened,” Snelson said. “It wasn’t like we just showed up and put all the pieces together. We were working toward it. It was a growing process. That was something that came together just from our guys believing when other people were starting to fall off. Maybe that’s what we needed, to shed some of that extra weight and for us to come closer together and become tighter as a unit.”
Steadiness at the top
There was one obvious, unmistakable change in the Mids over the last two months. Starting quarterback Trey Miller aggravated a sprained ankle in the second half of the victory at Air Force. Freshman Keenan Reynolds entered and spurred Navy’s comeback.
Miller missed the next game, during which Reynolds tossed three touchdowns against Central Michigan.
Navy won in Reynolds’ first four starts, and he has yet to relinquish the job. In the Mids’ first four games, they had 12 turnovers; in seven games since, they have five.
A new starting quarterback undeniably helped. But so did the old-fashioned steadiness Niumatalolo provided in his day-to-day message.
“Wins or losses, it’s been consistent: ‘Hey, go to work,’” French said. “When Monday rolls around, let’s get our workout in and get ready for the next one. That’s definitely been good leadership to see that, to not get complacent but not also freak out with the losses. That even keel, it’s definitely been positive.”
Even if Niumatalolo appreciated the early October pep talk from an assistant, his manner of thinking was going to take him down a rational path. It’s why he was befuddled when he attended an alumni event and heard people suggest the season was over at the end of September.
The three losses came to teams on their way to a combined 30-6 record. And his belief in the quality of his players did not fluctuate from the start of the season.
“There’s some people who lost to Mike Tyson who might have been good boxers, but if you get hit by one of his right hands, it doesn’t take away from that you might be good,” Niumatalolo said. “My point was that when we lost to those three teams early on, that [didn’t] make us a bad team. Those teams are good. Now, we could have played better, but I didn’t want us to jump off the Bay Bridge just because we lost to those three teams.”
Navy didn’t take such drastic measures. Instead, it simply bore deeper into an autumn of improvement, with more still to accomplish.
How much of it was thanks to just one victory? Probably not as much as the structure already in place before the season even started. Tradition, after all, still hasn’t graduated in Annapolis.