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."
TEXAS STATE (3-6) at NAVY (6-4)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM
Series: First meeting
Navy offense vs. Texas State defense: After getting off to slow starts but managing to beat both Indiana and Florida Atlantic at home during a five-game winning streak, a sluggish first quarter led to a 21-0 deficit and ultimately a 41-31 defeat at Troy last week. Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who played virtually mistake-free as a major catalyst in the season’s turnaround, fumbled a chance at an early touchdown after a 70-yard run, but he still managed to bring the Midshipmen as close at 31-28 in the third quarter. But another fumble by Reynolds while back to pass ended the comeback. Reynolds had his second straight game with big yardage (a combined 289 yards) and three touchdowns (all on the ground) while senior slotback Gee Gee Greene broke his career-best for yards (150 yards on 16 carries) for the second time in three weeks. In its first season as a Football Bowl Subdivision team, Texas State is not officially ranked statistically because of a provisional status but would be near the bottom for rushing defense (211.7 yards a game) and total defense (495.2). After upsetting Houston in the opener, the Bobcats have lost six of eight, including the last three, and surrendered 30 points or more in all but one of the games. They lost 62-55 last week to No. 18 Louisiana Tech.
Navy defense vs. Texas State offense: The Midshipmen will have to stop someone they are very familiar with – former teammate Marcus Curry, who resigned from the academy after his sophomore year and is now the leading rusher (529 yards and 9 TDs on 84 carries) for the Bobcats. Navy has had problems with spread offenses, most recently in last week’s 41-31 loss at Troy that ended the winning streak. Senior quarterback Shaun Rutherford (129 for 200 for 1454 yards and 11 TDs (5 INTs) has seven receivers with at least 10 receptions, led by Andy Erickson (33 catches for 426 yards and 3 TDs). Rutherford also likes to run (119 carries for 518 yards and 4 TDs). The Midshipmen will have to do a better job containing Rutherford than they did a week ago against Troy, when the Trojan quarterbacks combined for 415 yards passing.