- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

They have similar first names, and because of injuries in the Navy secondary Jeremy McGown and Jeromy Miles have often patrolled the middle of the field together as the Midshipmen’s safeties.

McGown is a 5-foot-11, 189-pound senior who has played four positions during his career in Annapolis. Miles is a 6-2, 189-pound freshman. A comparison of the players provides a good example of how Navy’s recruiting efforts have improved during its recent run of success.

Four years of weight training and conditioning at the collegiate level have defined McGown’s chiseled frame and helped him add more than 10 pounds of muscle. Imagining how Miles — already one of the team’s surest tacklers — will fill out is a good way to believe the success in Annapolis will continue.

“It is easier now, sure, because it is always easier when you are winning,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “The biggest thing with recruiting at an academy is you have to be able to beat the other two academies. Because of what has happened the past few years that has been easier for us. It’s still not easy, but it is easier than it was.”

Added senior defensive end and two-year starter John Chan: “If I came in with the freshman class now, I don’t think I’d be playing where I am four years down the road. We’ll see what they can do.”

When Johnson became the head coach at Navy, the entire plan for recruiting players was overhauled. Because there are no restrictions on the number of commitments at the service academies, quantity was more valued than quality with previous administrations. Each recruiting class had exorbitant numbers — there were often upwards of 200 players on the team.

Dale Pehrson, Navy’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, has been in Annapolis for 11 seasons, dating back to when Johnson was the offensive coordinator for former coach Charlie Weatherbie. When Pehrson started at Navy, he coached the safeties. He had 27 players for three spots.

“I think Coach Johnson’s idea of not bringing in 8 million kids has helped,” Pehrson said. “I think there were some good kids here before who never got seen and got frustrated and either went over to the brigade or left. It was hard enough to get them all reps let alone find out if they can do anything.”

Now Pehrson and the rest of the coaching staff have a streamlined and efficient process. The first part of a prospective player’s recruitment begins with his transcript. Because of the academy’s rigorous admissions standards (and the coaching staff is not granted academic exceptions), the Navy coach assigned to the recruit’s area of the country first determines whether the student can get into the school.

Next that coach obtains and watches a tape of the player and fills out an evaluation, assigning point values from one to five in areas such as admission status, speed, flexibility, position ability, toughness, athletic ability and size. Then the tape is passed on to the position coach and finally to Pehrson.

Each player is assigned a point value, with 100 being the highest, and is tagged. The staff plans out how many players to pursue for each position, and then refers to the list of tags, sometimes making slight tweaks in the ordering depending on grades or other factors.

“Every kid goes through that process so we are only taking guys who we think can come in and be productive players,” Pehrson said. “In the past, I don’t want to say we took them all, but pretty much if a kid had any kind of redeeming value we would take him. Some kids would pan out and some wouldn’t. It was sort of like luck of the draw.”

Under Johnson’s watch, Navy has recruited better athletes, and there are a few Mids who turned down scholarship offers to BCS schools. Cornerback Keenan Little, for instance, passed on Clemson and Wake Forest in part because of Navy’s engineering program.

“Coach [Buddy] Green did a great job,” Little said. “He came and got to know my family so I think he did a great job of recruiting me. [The Navy coaches] hold true to their word. You can talk to the players who are already here and they’ll tell you. The coaches are sincere, and you can go to them and they’ll help you out when you need it.”

Regardless of how many wins and how many bowl games Johnson and his staff can talk about with prospective recruits, there are still numerous disadvantages when trying to persuade football players to come to Annapolis.

Whether it is the tough admissions, size limitations, academic requirements or the looming service commitment, prying players with NFL aspirations away from BCS schools remains highly unlikely.

“The big thing here is evaluation. You have to be able to evaluate kids,” Johnson said. “It is far different that recruiting at Southern Cal or Notre Dame. The thing we have to do here is look at guys and evaluate, and maybe take some guys who aren’t being recruited by a bunch of people but we think are good players. You might take a guy who is playing safety but doesn’t run good enough for some other guys but you’re projecting him to play linebacker anyway.”

Navy does not have the luxury of redshirting players, but some do spend a year at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I. NAPS is only an option for players who are missing a class such as calculus or are just short of the SAT requirements. Anyone who thinks Navy’s staff can herd players to NAPS for something similar to a redshirt season is mistaken.

“There are a lot of things that go into it, but basically 600 [math]/600 [verbal] SAT would be the cutoff for a direct guy,” Pehrson said. “Give or take and it depends on a lot of factors. [The] admissions [department] sends them to NAPS. We have really very little to do with that. We have to qualify a kid to go there. We can say: Hey, we want this 700 [SAT] kid to go to NAPS and they would just say no. We also can’t say, look I know this kid got a 1200, but he is light right now so let’s send him to the prep school. We don’t have that choice.”

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