ANNAPOLIS | As Ken Niumatalolo gathered the Navy football team at the end of its last spring session on the Midshipmen’s practice fields, he couldn’t help but notice some torn up sod and stains on his players’ uniforms.
It was a welcome sight.
“I don’t see dirt,” Niumatalolo said. “I see hard work there. That’s 14 practices of getting after it. We’re not where we want to be, but I’m encouraged by where we’re at. Right now, we’re talking more about our transition.”
Before then, though, Navy will have its spring game Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
While Niutmatalolo’s greatest priority tonight will be escaping the scrimmage without injuries, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate just how much progress the Mids have made despite uncertainties at several positions.
Niumatalolo said Wednesday sophomore Trey Miller will be the team’s backup quarterback, and he also believes the Mids have found answers at inside and outside linebacker and in the secondary. Navy also developed depth at fullback behind senior Alexander Teich, who sat out the spring with an injury.
“I think it was a pretty solid spring for the team,” quarterback Kriss Proctor said. “[We got] a lot out of it, I’d say. A lot of question marks we had were answered. A lot of guys who needed to step up did.”
It was a significant four weeks for Proctor as well. The senior has three career starts for the Mids, including a 201-yard rushing day against Central Michigan last season.
Still, next year will be the Californian’s first chance to start regularly for Navy, which relied primarily on Ricky Dobbs at quarterback the past two seasons.
“I thought he had a very, very solid spring,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m very, very pleased with him. He made some decisions in some early practices I didn’t like - throwing across his body. After that, he didn’t do that anymore. I thought he was solid in his decision-making.”
Quarterback is probably one of the most settled positions for Navy, which returns only two full-time defensive starters - cornerback Kwesi Mitchell and defensive end Jabaree Tuani - from last year’s 9-4 team.
Nonetheless, Niumatalolo is optimistic his team will continue to progress as spring segues into summer in the coming weeks.
“The key now is where do we go from here?” Niumatalolo said. “Are we going to have guys who don’t take care of academics and get in trouble off the field? Or are we going to have a team that’s disciplined and takes care of stuff off the field and has a great summer? That’s the big question right now, and that’s going to be the key. If we can do that, I think we have a chance to have a decent team.”
NOTE - Navy’s spring game will be televised by CBS Sports Network (formerly CBS College Sports).
“I think it’s great exposure for us,” Niumatalolo said. “For a non-BCS team to have your spring game on national television, that’s huge. To me, that says a lot about our program.”