- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 16, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Eric Kettani has had no shortage of distinguished mentors in his career as a Navy fullback.

His predecessor, Adam Ballard, never lost a game to another service academy in his four years and ranks seventh on Navy’s all-time rushing list. Kyle Eckel, the Midshipmen’s fourth all-time rusher and a reserve for the New England Patriots, preceded Ballard.

Now a senior, Kettani has become the sage. During preseason camp, he has guided a freshman fullback locked in competition for a spot as his backup.

“I’m taking as much as I can from Kettani,” said Kettani’s, pupil Alexander Teich, who is favored to become the Mids’ No. 2 fullback. “He’s full of knowledge. He’s like my knowledge bucket. Every time I do something wrong, he’s always fixing me.”

The Mids have featured a strong duo of fullbacks in recent years. Last season, Kettani and Ballard shared the work with 152 and 141 carries, respectively. Not since Eckel’s senior season in 2004 has one fullback shouldered most of the load.

That’s a trend coach Ken Niumatalolo wants to continue, so finding a viable backup fullback remains one of the Mids’ top priorities in summer camp. Although the carries this season between Kettani and the second stringer won’t be split as evenly as they were with Ballard, Niumatalolo still seeks someone capable of spelling Kettani from the constant bruising a fullback endures.

Teich has impressed the coaching staff enough to hurdle three others on the depth chart since camp opened two weeks ago. Listed at 200 pounds, the converted slot back is still adding weight, but he has the right combination of agility and tenacity Navy’s coaches expect from their fullbacks.

“He’s a young guy that we’re really excited about,” Niumatalolo said. “We like his breakaway speed. We’re not looking for a round-neck guy. We’re looking for a strong, athletic guy with good feet.”

Learning the intricacies of the triple-option offense represents a big challenge for players as they enter the academy, and Teich credits Kettani for much of his development.

Kettani offers Teich advice on reading the defense and anticipating its movements. But Kettani downplays his influence, considering the tips he passes along as “just little things.”

Teich, however, showers praise for his tutor.

“He’s the man,” Teich said. “He always knows what’s going on and where everybody’s supposed to be.”

Such is evident from Kettani’s work on the field. Last season, he amassed a team-high 880 yards on 152 carries - an average of 5.8 yards - and 10 touchdowns.

At 6-foot-1, 243 pounds, he has the size enough to wear down defenses by pounding the ball up the middle. He also maintains the breakaway speed Niumatalolo touted - his longest run last year went for 71 yards.

And with an increased workload coming this year, Kettani considers a 1,000-yard season a possibility.

That has caught Eckel’s attention. Eckel set the gold standard with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in his final years in Annapolis.

“Me and [Eckel] talk a lot on the phone,” Kettani said. “He calls me and he’s like ‘Kettani you better not break my record’ and I start laughing, but he really is serious.”

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