ANNAPOLIS —- The annual run through the sports calendar carries a little more repetitiveness for Brye French than most.
The Navy linebacker goes through preseason camp, attempts to win a job at linebacker and proceeds through the season. Then it’s off to lacrosse for the spring, followed by summer workouts to get back into football shape.
Upon arriving again for preseason camp, he finds himself buried at the bottom of the depth chart. Behind all the program’s veterans, French occupies a place with the plebes —- generally the only other guys who didn’t go through the rigors of spring ball with the rest of the roster.
And so the challenging cycle continues.
“I don’t know if daunting’s the right word, but I think it lights a fire under my butt a little bit,” French said.
So, too, was a taste of fleeting success last year. French was one of the breakout players during the opening weeks of camp, and remained in contention for a place in the Midshipmen’s outside linebacker rotation.
Yet a shoulder injury limited French to three games and three tackles (including a half-sack) a year ago. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior recovered in time to play 12 games as a defensive midfielder with the lacrosse team in the spring.
When he could, French would sit in on football meetings to collect mental reps. Juggling one sport and classes at the academy is difficult enough; tacking on a second one requires particularly sharp time-management skills.
French did what he could to negate the lost time, participating in workouts throughout the summer with football teammates. Still, there’s a hole and only so much time to escape it.
“He’s doing good,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “The standard for him is always high. It’s pretty amazing what the kid has done, having missed the spring, but he’s still behind. He’s not where you would be if he hadn’t played lacrosse. I’m just being quite frank and quite honest.”
That could sting a little more at a position that’s served as a revolving door for the Mids in recent years. One of the reasons French’s emergence earned some notice last summer was the need for Navy to replace both of its outside linebackers. The same scenario is present this month, with Mason Graham and Jarred Shannon the favorites coming out of spring ball to claim the positions.
Still, Navy’s plug-and-play history at the position is a reason for optimism for both French and the guys he’s competing with to earn a job.
“The coaches do a great job with getting us ready,” French said. “When guys go in that spot, they’ve been ready for a couple years. Every guy, they just don’t have that opportunity because there’s an upperclassman. But when they do jump in, everybody takes advantage of it.”
The question, then, is whether French will ever earn the opportunity. His shoulder is fully healed, a major step by itself. But he’s still facing a climb up the depth chart, one he relishes even if it makes it more difficult to earn a place on the field each year.
“Going into camp, I was behind. I had to start at the bottom of the depth chart,” French said. “It’s just a good challenge. It just motivated me to work even harder over the summer. So far, it’s been good.”
—- Patrick Stevens