- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

There is a corner of the Navy locker room where few players who don’t wear a number starting with 6 or 7 dare trespass.

The normal locker room sounds of hip-hop beats and heavy metal fury are muted by country music. Those who do walk past this area are often targets of the residents’ jokes and pranks.

The area is known as the “Trailer Park,” and its residents are members of the Midshipmen’s offensive line.

“It’s interesting over there,” fullback Kyle Eckel said. “I’ll walk by every once in a while. I’ll try to sneak over and shut off their stereo. They don’t like that too much.”

It is a tight-knit group. Of the seven linemen who will play regularly once right tackle Casey Hughes returns from a left ankle injury, six are from the South, including four Texans.

“When we can go out, we normally go out together,” center Marshall Green said. “This group has worked through a lot of stuff.”

Before the Mids’ game last Saturday against Duke, the offensive line was considered a question mark. Only one returning player, left guard Dennis Ray Phillips, started every game in 2003. August Roitsch began the year as the starting center before missing the final nine games with a foot injury.

During preseason practice, injuries wreaked havoc with continuity. Hughes, expected to start, went down. Left tackle Tyson Stahl also missed time with minor injuries. Players shifted positions to plug holes.

Nonetheless, the Mids rolled up 301 yards on the ground against Duke, including 211 in the second half. Navy had 132 yards on its final two touchdown drives without throwing a pass.

“When you see them having trouble getting off the ground and kind of limping around and they start to get upset with each other and argue amongst themselves, that’s pretty nice,” Roitsch said of opposing defensive players.

Navy offensive linemen enter nearly every game with a disadvantage in size and talent. But they make up for it with advantages in technique, endurance and often desire.

Phillips, the left guard, is the largest of the starters at 285 pounds. On many teams he would be the lightest offensive lineman.

“One thing Coach [Paul] Johnson always says is we have a team that has to pride itself on being tougher and in better shape than our opponents,” Stahl said. “That’s a mentality that we’ve got to stick with.”

The members of the line have different personalities that blend together well. Phillips is considered one of the quiet ones. Green is the extrovert.

And then there is Stahl, known to the residents of the Trailer Park as “The Mayor.” After playing his junior year in high school at about 210 pounds, Stahl said he “went to GNC and robbed my parents’ bank account” in an attempt to put on more weight. Now listed at 262, he might weigh 50 or even 75 pounds less than the prototypical left tackle, but he’s athletic.

An unsuspecting Duke cornerback found that out last week. On the next to last play of the first quarter, Navy quarterback Aaron Polanco dropped back and tossed a screen pass to his left to wideout Jason Tomlinson. Stahl sprinted toward the sideline and leveled the defender in front of Tomlinson, springing him for a 26-yard gain.

“We rewound [the film] about 10 times in slow motion just to watch the guy crumble on the sidelines,” Roitsch said.

Stahl played Saturday with mixed emotions. Though the rest of the team found out just before the start of the game that 2001 graduate and former offensive lineman Ron Winchester had died in Iraq earlier that week, Stahl learned it earlier in the day. His older brother, Hoot, and Winchester were teammates, classmates and close friends.

“I wasn’t as close to Ron as my brother was, but I knew Ron well enough, and I know his parents and what a loss it was,” Stahl said. “Josh Goodin [a 2004 graduate] told me Saturday morning, and I made a call to Ron’s mom as soon as I found out just to let her know that we’re thinking about them and whatever they needed.

“We always talk about [the football team] being a brotherhood, and that’s the truth.”

Hoot Stahl also is in Iraq, something that made the news of Winchester’s death even tougher for Tyson and his family. Tyson Stahl led the Midshipmen out of the tunnel Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium carrying the U.S. flag.

“It puts some weight on your heart,” Stahl said. “I remember when Josh told me, my eyes watered up. I knew there are so many guys over there that were Ron’s teammates and friends that were going to find out even later than us and how hard it was going to be for them. It definitely gave me a little bit more to play for Saturday and for the rest of the season.”

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