Most of the 27 Navy seniors who will honored before Saturday's final home game against Texas State have contributed to the team's success on the field the past four years. But those who have made limited appearances — or even none at all — seem to share in that experience as much as those who have had starring roles.
Matt Shibata, who came to Annapolis from Honolulu, has been in for a "handful of plays" at wide receiver. Offensive linemen Evan Campbell and Beau Haworth, who came from nearby high schools with the same football dreams as their fellow plebes, have not played a single down. Haworth has never even dressed for a game.
"It's easy to say, 'I'm not playing that much, football is hard, it's taking up a lot of my time and I could be devoting that time to the hall and my studies,' but I love the guys on the team," Shibata said after a practice this week. [Receivers] coach [Mick] Yokitis keeps me going. It's basically just a commitment that I made."
Shibata said that there were times during his first two years that he thought of going somewhere he could play, but quickly came to the realization that he couldn't leave what Midshipmen call "The Brotherhood".
"I think during my sophomore year, before I signed my two-for-seven (to fulfill his post-graduate military commitment), I had some issues kind of weighing my options a little bit, but it all comes back to the team, hanging out in the locker room, seeing the guys every day and on the weekends, there's no other friendships like it," Shibata said.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has credited the leadership of this year's senior class for adopting the team's motto and the accompanying acronym — INAM, which stands for "it's not about me" — to help recover from last year's 5-7 record and this season's 1-3 start. Niumatalolo said the leadership is not just from senior stars such as slotback Gee Gee Greene, linebacker Keegan Wetzel and rover Tra'ves Bush.
"I'm a firm believer that those guys, guys like Beau Haworth, it's who we are," Niumatalolo said. "The INAM mentality that we have, the model that we have, that symbolizes it. Not everybody can be a star, not everybody can carry the football, not everybody can play, but those guys accept their role whether it's on the scout team or field goal block team, that's allowed us to be successful."
Said Shibata, "All the seniors who stuck it out this far embraced it, and that's why we've been able to bring out team back after last year."
While many come to the academy understanding they might not play much, if at all, for the Midshipmen, Haworth had other plans. He had been a two-time All-State offensive tackle at Archbishop Spalding High. His family's legacy at the academy goes back three generations. He had the size (6-6, now 297 pounds) to play for Navy.
Haworth found out quickly that his goals would have to be adjusted.
"It was kind of eye-opening, my freshman year. I thought I was going to be a big shot, but after summer camp, I gave up those dreams and just tried to contribute to the team, hang out with the guys and lift weights with them and play scout team, it's not the most rewarding position but I enjoy it," Haworth said.
A knee injury his sophomore year took away any hope Haworth had of getting on the field.
"I don't do anything glorious, I just do it in practice," Haworth said with a laugh.
Haworth credits his teammates and coaches with helping him get through the academic and military rigors of academy life.
"Football's been the easiest part of my day," Haworth said. "It's kept me in line, it's kept me out of trouble."
Campbell, who played at Chesapeake High in Pasadena, has spent his four years rarely cracking the depth chart, never quite reaching the two-deep when it mattered. He has dressed for a handful of games, including one against Army, but has never played. Campbell thought he had a chance to play his senior year on the offensive line, but broke his right ankle the first week of summer camp.
"The only thing that's bittersweet for me is that I have a big support network coming to the games, and I would have liked to get on the field as a way to pay them back," Campbell said.
Even as he watched practice from the sideline, his right leg booted, Campbell said "this year has been a lot of fun, seeing the way we came back." Finally freed from the boot this week, Campbell is hoping to at least dress for Army-Navy on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia and said he hopes he gets to travel to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 29.
If he doesn't, Campbell said he won't be too disappointed.
"When I was a freshman, I looked up to the seniors who didn't play as much as the seniors who did play," Campbell said. "The quality of the guys who come here is pretty special."