ANNAPOLIS — Brye French looked forward to this weekend for more than a year.
The Navy linebacker might not start Saturday when the Midshipmen (6-3) visit Troy (4-5), just an hour’s drive from French’s hometown of Deatsville, Ala. Maybe French’s reserve role behind Matt Warrick and Cody Peterson could be an important subplot. In truth, it’s inconsequential as the Mids carry a five-game winning streak into the weekend.
“You look at it and you lose your starting job and it’s a big deal, but at the same time the success on the team has been unbelievable,” French said. “We made the starting change after Air Force, and since Air Force we’ve just been getting better every week as a defense. I’m still getting the same amount of reps as Warrick and Cody, and those guys are playing unbelievable.”
French’s last year and a half is a bit unbelievable as well.
He played football and lacrosse over his first two years at the academy, a split commitment coach Ken Niumatalolo did not intend to continue before last season’s captains asked for French to remain with the program. French went on to earn a starting job, then a captaincy of his own as he opted to concentrate solely on football and a switch from outside to inside linebacker.
The academy removed the captain’s stripes from French and slotback Bo Snelson over the summer for reasons still undisclosed, but it didn’t alter French’s importance in guiding Navy to a bounceback season. Neither did last month’s lineup change.
“I don’t think there’s been any setbacks in his mind because he’s been a leader ” defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “I expect it and respect it at the same time because I know Brye, and I know what kind of man he is, and I know what kind of character he has. I would expect nothing less.”
Besides, the entire cycle, from offseason workouts to spring ball to the season, proved immensely gratifying for the senior.
Earlier in his career, French would attempt to remain up to date on football during the offseason, but he always was behind and at the bottom of the depth chart when preseason practice commenced.
He also was out of the loop on day-to-day things in the locker room, and that might be the biggest difference this year.
“It definitely was tough not playing lacrosse last season, but it’s definitely been a blessing to be in the position with Bo and the influence on guys and seeing the team perform so well lately,” French said. “It’s definitely been rewarding.”
High among French’s priorities this season was to instill, along with Snelson, the importance of team accomplishments above all else. Navy’s oft-repeated team theme was the acronym INAM: It’s not about me.
French’s season arc (he’s come off the bench in three of the past four games) reflected his belief in the slogan.
“He’s exhibiting that,” Niumatalolo said. “He could have easily sulked and pouted when he lost his starting job, but he just continues to work.”
French cobbled together about 15 tickets for friends and family for his much-anticipated return to Alabama, and he is playing well after back-to-back seven-tackle outings.
But he’s far happier about Navy’s recently clinched bowl eligibility and chasing the fourth 10-win in program history, which would happen if the Mids win their final three regular-season games and the Dec. 29 Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
NOTES: Slotback Darius Staten (shoulder) is expected to return Saturday after sitting out last week.
• Navy is seeking its first six-game winning streak since the start of the 1979 season.