Many of the inquiries involved how the Midshipmen in general, as well as the fifth-year coach and the two players in particular, will move forward without regular captains as they prepare for the 2012 season opener Sept. 1 against Notre Dame at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. It wasn't a shock that Niumatalolo said the players would take the punishment doled out as a lesson for their next role as soldiers.
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Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, 550 Taylor Ave, Annapolis, MD 21401, USA
“The accountability and responsibility that they are taking upon themselves, I think that's part of leadership. Nobody here in this room or on this planet has a mistake-free life. Hopefully they can learn from it. I have the utmost respect and belief in these young men, in their character, who they are as people. I'm grateful that the academy is allowing them to make up for some of their mistakes.”
This marks the first time in the Navy team's history that it will not have at least one designated captain. In 10 of the first 11 years after the program was established in 1879, Navy had a captain without having a coach. Niumatalolo said that he has been part of programs at Hawaii and Nevada-Las Vegas that had game captains, as he plans on using this season.
Niumatalolo said that while he remains supportive of the academy's decision “as we press forward it's kind of wait and see what happens. I think the best thing for our program was just moving forward [with game captains]. Whatever happens, happens. … As coaches you just don't [always] teach Xs and Os and stuff, you teach life lessons.”
Snelson, a reserve slotback from Pasadena, Tex., said that the rest of the players told he and French they will still be looked upon as defacto captains in order to provide leadership.
“Almost to a T, everyone came out and said, ‘Regardless of what's happened, we elected you our captains and we're going to stand behind you,' ” Snelson said. “Coming from your peers, coming from men that you work with on a daily basis, that means a lot, especially after a few guys like me and Brye kind of stumbled. To have them pick us up like that, it's a big deal. We haven't absolved any responsibilities. They still look to us, we're still working hard, probably even harder.”
Snelson added that he was “kind of excited” about sending out two different captains for each game.
“Now I'll get to see Tra'ves [Bush] out there and big Josh Cabral, some of those guys that normally don't get as much recognition as they deserve,” Snelson said.
French, a starting inside linebacker from Deatsville, Ala., said he and Snelson can learn from watching one of last season's captains, fullback Alexander Teich, get suspended for a game by Niumatalolo after he left the field prematurely following a crushing overtime defeat at home to heated rival Air Force. It cost the Midshipmen the Commander In Chief's Trophy for the second straight year.
“It's definitely a learning experience whenever you make a mistake,” French said. “You're defined as a person by the how you handle it. Teich accepted his punishment, he moved forward, finished strong and he had a great season. That's something you look for and try to emulate. This has definitely been the biggest learning experience since I've been here.”
Junior Trey Miller, the most inexperienced quarterback to start a season under Niumatalolo, said he feels no added responsibility because there are no regular captains. Bush, a senior safety, agreed, saying, “I don't think it puts [extra] responsibility on me. They're still leaders on the field no matter what happened on the field.”
French, who was briefly thrown off the team by Niumatalolo before the start of last season's fall practice when he couldn't decide between playing lacrosse and football, has talked to Snelson about not having the team distracted by their situation.
“You don't want personal issues off the field to become an issue to the team,” Snelson said. “The last thing that either of us want is for the focus to be on us and decisions we made off the field that will detract from how we're working on the field, how we're practicing and how we're performing in games. The way we can avoid that is by coming to work every day, by staying enthusiastic and just keep pressing forward.”