- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

Reggie Campbell and Marco Nelson have heard the wisecracks. Whether they come from teammates or opposing players, the pair’s height — or lack of it, to be precise — is an easy target.

After Campbell shakes past a defender for a long run or Nelson hauls in a pass for a big play, the teasing stops. Campbell, listed at 5-foot-6 and 164 pounds, and Nelson, at 5-7 and 178 pounds, are Navy’s starting slotbacks (A-backs). While they might be too small to play tailback in a typical college offense, they are right at home in Annapolis.

“[Teammates] are always joking with us, but we play hard,” Nelson said. “We play bigger than we are, so I know we’re going to be OK.”

Said Campbell: “It’s always been like that. I’ve always been one of the smallest guys on the team. But in football, that’s only one aspect of the game.”

The pair is expected to replace departed seniors Eric Roberts and Frank Divis, who were a perfect big-play complement to bruising fullback Kyle Eckel and quarterback Aaron Polanco.

Both Campbell and Nelson played some last season. Campbell was one of a few freshmen who saw varsity action, and coach Paul Johnson has raved about him during fall camp. Nelson made one of the biggest plays of the season — a 66-yard reception against Air Force — and averaged more than seven yards a carry.

At first glance an area of concern might be the blocking portion of the job. Johnson’s offense requires good blocking from the A-back and wideout in front of the option.

“Really, at that position you don’t have to be a devastating blocker and knock them off their feet,” slotbacks coach Jeff Monken said. “You’ve just got to be able to get on people’s legs and get them tied up.”

Behind Campbell and Nelson are a couple of juniors and a stable of young backs looking to force their way on the field. Eddie Martin is a converted quarterback who has moved up to No. 2 behind Nelson. Byron McCoy might be the group’s best blocker, which could be his ticket to playing time.

Three freshmen have made an instant impression during camp. Karlos Whittaker, John Forbes and Shaun White have added a large dose of explosiveness and depth to the position, and Whittaker and Forbes sprung for touchdown runs in the team’s first scrimmage Saturday.

All three spent last season at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island and had a capable tutor on the option offense — former Navy slotback Tony Lane.

“Tony played here and understands the offense pretty well,” Monken said. “He had some football sense, and he really understood the position and was able to coach them. A lot of that has carried over. I’ve been very pleased with all three of those kids and how they’ve been able to step in and make plays, be able to run the right routes and get on the right people.

“They’ve made more mistakes relative to the older guys, which you would expect, but not as many as the younger guys in the past.”

Another player to watch at the position is sophomore Zerbin Singleton. Monken heaped plenty of praise upon the diminutive Singleton, who is listed as Campbell’s backup, ahead of the freshmen.

The depth at A-back allowed junior Trey Hines to switch to fullback, a position at which Navy lacks experienced, healthy bodies.

While the Mids don’t have a pair of seniors to lean on, it is clear there is more depth at the position this season. Monken and Johnson might have trouble deciding on appropriate playing time, but that’s not something they are sorry to deal with.

“There are a lot of guys that can get in there,” Monken said. “I don’t think that ever if you have more good players at a position that it is a problem. I’m pleased to have all of them.”

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