- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

Navy wrapped up its season goals earlier this month by beating Army and capturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. As a result, the Midshipmen have been able to enjoy the festivities that are part of this week’s Texas Bowl as a reward for a successful season.

But the coaching staff has been given a treat as well. As part of its preparation for Wednesday’s Texas Bowl against Missouri at Reliant Stadium, Navy has taken advantage of its time in Houston by opening up its practices to local high school coaches.

“Football is huge here,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “High school football, ‘Friday Night Lights’ is more than a reality show in the state of Texas; it’s real. Every high school has their own football building with a weight room and a secretary. It’s pretty amazing when you come here to recruit, just from the standpoint that you realize how important football is.”

Niumatalolo and his staff hit the recruiting trail hard in October when the team was in Texas for a pair of regular-season games, fanning out to several high school games each Friday night. Athletic director Chet Gladchuk deftly scheduled games in back-to-back weeks against Texas-based schools, and the Mids did their part with a 63-14 beatdown of Rice and a 38-35 overtime win against SMU.

Navy reciprocated the gesture this week by inviting a swarm of high school coaches to attend their practices. The Mids had three practices at Rice and a walkthrough Wednesday at Reliant Stadium.

“This is big for us,” Niumatalolo said. “We know in the state of Texas that football is huge; they take football seriously here, and those are the kind of kids we want: hard-nosed, love the game and passionate about the game. Hopefully we can get a few more guys from the state of Texas.”

Gladchuk has been sure to keep the Navy program relevant in the Houston area, continuing a home-and-home series with Rice since 1999, and he is doing the same with SMU. This year was the second of a home-and-home series that concludes in 2011, and the schools have committed to another four-year home-and-home series that will begin in 2015.

The Navy and SMU athletic departments also created the Gansz Trophy this year, named in honor of the late Frank Gansz, who played football for the Midshipmen and later coached at both schools. The traveling trophy is awarded to the winner of the game between the Mids and the Mustangs.

Navy has 27 players from Texas, including offensive captain Osei Asante and defensive captain Ross Pospisil, and nine from the Houston area. The promise to return home is no doubt a comforting thought to a high school player the Mids are recruiting.

“I actually graduated in [Reliant Stadium],” Asante said. “It’s kind of weird how I end one career there, and now I’m ending another there. It’s really special.”

The Mids travel well to the talent-rich area. They sold approximately 1,200 tickets to the Rice game, about 5,000 to SMU and 18,000 to the Texas Bowl. They are expecting more than 20,000 Navy fans in the stands Wednesday.

It all breeds a welcoming atmosphere reciprocated between the academy and the state of Texas, one that the Mids hope can continue to thrive for the foreseeable future.

“Academics are great here in the state of Texas, and people in Texas are very patriotic,” Niumatalolo said. “So for us, from the Naval Academy, just from the military standpoint, for everything that our school represents, there are a lot of fits. Even though we recruit nationally, Texas is our number one state.”

• Mike Fratto can be reached at mfratto@washingtontimes.com.

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