Brye French looked at Navy spring football practice a little differently during his first two years at the academy. It was a time Frye put on another kind of helmet and shoulder pads, picked up a lacrosse stick and gave football a rest.

That changed last year, when French decided to finally commit to football fulltime. And it is certainly different this year, with the senior inside linebacker recently being selected, with senior slot back Bo Snelson, as a co-captain for the 2012 team.

Not that French doesn't miss a sport he had played longer — and with more success — than football. He was an All-American in high school in Alabama, where he played football at Elmore Stanhope High and played lacrosse at football power Hoover High because there wasn't a lacrosse team at his home school.

French, who was the first Navy athlete in a decade to play both sports, is blunt about how much he misses lacrosse.

"Honestly, every day," French said Monday after the Midshipmen practiced for the first time this spring. "I know some of those guys since NAPS (prep school), going on four years, I see them in the hall, I see them at meals, I ask them how things are going. It sucks not being a part of it, but at the same time that's the kind of sacrifice you have to make."

A year ago, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told French that he would have to choose between the two sports. When French had a difficult time leaving his lacrosse career behind, Niumatalolo told him he was off the team. Only when last year's seniors went to Niumatalolo asking for French to be reinstated did the coach relent.

To now be chosen captain by his teammates, French said, is "an honor" and was "surprising" after what had happened last year.

"When Coach Niumat said my name, my heart sunk," said French, whose 55 tackles last season included 13 in a 24-21 loss to No. 10 South Carolina. "It was very humbling and I knew there was a big responsibility coming with it."

If there's any consolation for no longer playing lacrosse — he was a faceoff specialist and midfielder — French will at least get to hit somebody — even his own quarterback — once Navy is allowed to go "live" beginning Saturday.

French said that Niumatalolo's decision to permit tackling in the spring should add an extra dimension to what is often mundane conditioning work. Niumatalolo said that he felt the team, himself included, was soft last season.

"I've been pretty antsy. I think this off-season had a pretty short fuse. It will be good to get out and hit some guys and let off some of that steam," said French, who is competing with fellow senior Matt Brewer for starting inside linebacker job.

It is not the only thing that has changed for the Midshipmen this spring. Coming off his first losing seasons in four years as head coach, Niumatalolo decided to announce his captains before practice began rather than in preparation for preseason workouts this summer.

"Given how young we are in many positions, I wanted those guys to start taking more of a leadership role," Niumatalolo said last week.

Said French, "I understand totally where Coach Niumat was coming from, getting last year behind us and get moving forward. Ever since (winter) workouts, it's every day. It's not just Bo and I, it's the whole senior class.".

What is also obvious is how different French and Snelson seem to be. Niumatalolo said that French is a "lead by example kind of guy" while Snelson, the son of a high school football coach in San Antonio is "one of the more fiery guys we've ever had here."

Snelson said that his father is "a loud guy, he can get you excited when things are going good and when things are going back he's going to let you know." Snelson, who will likely back up slotbacks Gee Gee Greene and John Howell, said that "I can take a lot of things on the field from a lot of different coaches and take it with a grain of salt and put it in the fire to help use it as motivation later."

NOTES: Niumatalolo said after practice that senior defensive end Joshua Jones, who had moved into the starting lineup midway through last season, has left the team in order to finish his academic and physical training requirements needed to graduate. Jamel Dobbs, the player who Jones had replaced last season, left the academy after last season.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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