It takes a special breed to be considered worthy of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Commitment, sacrifice and perseverance are key attributes. It also helps if you are a darn good football player.
Nate Ozdemir is certainly the type.
"I've been playing G.I. Joe in the backyard since I was a little kid," Ozdemir said. "It's a win-win situation. I get to play big-time D-1 ball and I get an Ivy League education."
He is one of five Orange County college football players who are headed to the Naval Academy.
Orange County has blossomed into a hotbed for college football prospects, and Navy is among the schools jockeying for the talented athletes. Of the 46 Central Florida high-school seniors who signed letters last month to play at NCAA's highest level of football competition — the most ever for the Central Florida region — 29 are from Orange County.
Navy assistant coach Shaun Nua says he intends to mine Orange County for top-notch Navy recruits for seasons to come.
"I think that's what the whole country is trying to do," said Nua, who is coming off his first season coaching the Midshipmen's defensive line and just ended his initial foray into recruiting the Sunshine State. "Sometimes I can't believe how lucky we are to have those guys."
Those guys are Ozdemir and teammate Winston Chastang of West Orange High in Winter Garden, Lake Highland Prep's Carter Shipley, and Colton Plante and Lloyd Hylton of Orlando's First Academy.
To Navy coaches, the Orlando quintet exhibits qualities that stretch far beyond knowing how to tackle or block or run fast. Of course, those help, too.
"These kids are tough. They all have similar characteristics," Nua said. "They have the right work ethic required to go to a place like the Naval Academy."
They gathered Tuesday at Lake Eola for a photo shoot, none of them having ever met each other with the exception of the two pairs of teammates. Afterward, it was hard to pry them apart. They hit it off like brothers.
None of the players are surprised by Navy's recruting presence in Central Florida, or the whole state, for that matter.
"This is where the athletes are, the fastest and the strongest," Chastang said of Florida.
One of the strongest is Shipley, who will go straight to the Academy in Annapolis, Md. The other four will spend the first year at the Navy prep school in Newport, R.I.
It's fairly rare for high school recruits to go straight through to the Academy, with most spending one season at the prep school. Shipley, however, is indeed rare.
He picked Navy over Ivy League Dartmouth. He wanted to play big-time football. This coming season Navy will face the likes of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Duke, and, of course, Air Force and Army.
Shipley also is an All-American caliber wrestler who just won his second straight state wrestling title. He has won gold medals at national and international Olympic-style competitions. He will put wrestling on hold, for now.
"For me, Navy offers the best challenge and the best balance between sports and education," said Shipley, who has a 3.4 GPA, and scored 1242 on the SAT and 27 on the ACT.
It will be good for the others to be surrounded by familiar faces as they make a tough transition to the strict structure of the prep school.
"Before they go we try to prep them and try not to hide anything," said Nua, who played at Brigham Young and then four years with the NFL Steelers and Bills before breaking into coaching back at BYU in 2010. "Yes there will be hard days . . . so having each other to lean on will be important."
Plante and Hylton, as well as Chastang and Ozdemir, have been teammates for a long time.
"I'm glad the place that I fell in love with on my visit is the same place Colton fell in love with," said Hylton, a running back who could end up following lead blocks again of his good buddy Plante, a fullback.
The Hylton family stresses academics. Lloyd's cousin, Rohan Hylton, a linebacker and fellow senior at Ocoee High, will head to Princeton in the fall.
"I'm glad that Navy has such high academic standards," Lloyd Hylton said. "Family comes first and then academics and sports, and the academics part is really what I liked."
Plante was searching for that "Division I" football experience, and Navy finally entered the picture.
"The Navy guys missed us the first time," Plante said of the recruiting process, "but they ended up coming back to [The First Academy] and it's definitely a blessing now that we are both going there."
For Chastang, a defensive end, and Ozdemir, a fullback/linebacker, their friendship is deep. Their families even vacation together.
"Honestly, it's kinda scary. I've lived in Florida my whole life, my family is here and everybody so I'm just happy to take Nate with me," Chastang said. "Our family has been friends for a long time. There is going to be some serious tailgating, that's for sure."
Ozdemir echoes that sentiment.
"This is where I thought we'd part ways, going off to college," Ozdemir said. "I never thought there'd be a chance in the world we'd be able to go to the same place. We're excited."
Nua is also excited. He's found his territory in Florida, especially Orlando. Navy has 18 Florida players on its 2013 roster, including two from Central Florida in juniors Tanner Fleming, the starting center from Deltona High, and nose guard A.J. Barnaby from Deltona Trinity Christian.
"We'll be back hard at it this spring," he said. "You can count on that."
Chris Hays covers college football recruiting for the Sentinel. He can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun