Navy has posted winning records in 10 of the last 11 seasons. An efficient and effective triple-option offense is the primary reason for that sustained success as the Midshipmen have either led the nation or ranked in the top four 10 times since 2002.
Navy's had two head coaches and employed 10 different starting quarterbacks during the most productive era in program history. Along the way, there has been one constant – Ivin Jasper, who has been responsible for teaching the quarterbacks how to direct the triple-option.
"Ivin is, without a doubt, the best option quarterback coach in the country. He's a great teacher – both of the offense as a whole and the mechanics of running the option," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We've had all sorts of different quarterbacks, but we've only had one quarterbacks coach. It's the consistency factor that is so critical. Ivin just does a great job of teaching mechanics, of communicating what needs to be done."
Jasper learned the intricacies of this particular option system while playing quarterback at the University of Hawaii when Paul Johnson was offensive coordinator. Both Jasper and Niumatalolo, who also played QB for the Rainbows, later worked under Johnson as assistants.
When Johnson left Georgia Southern to return to Navy as head coach, he brought Jasper along with him to tutor the quarterbacks. Craig Candeto was the initial pupil and was impressed with the way Jasper imparted the knowledge and mechanics of how to operate the option.
"I had run some option in high school and was excited about doing it a higher level under Coach Johnson. Coach Jasper was great to work with because he has a great demeanor and so much professionalism," said Candeto, who rushed for 32 touchdowns over two seasons as the starting quarterback. "Ivin played the position under Coach Johnson then taught the position under Coach Johnson so he knew the subject matter, was well-versed on every single detail."
Candeto is now head coach at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio and oversees an option-based offense. The former Navy jet fighter pilot still speaks regularly with Jasper, often seeking advice and tips about various offensive topics.
"What I respected the most was the way Coach Jasper handled players. He was an excellent teacher and very clear and concise with imparting what he expected," Candeto said. "Ivin still thinks as a player as far as how he would want things presented to him. He is also very calm and cool, which is important. He would pull you aside and explain what you were doing wrong."
Playing to strengths
Niumatalolo has marveled at Jasper's ability to take quarterbacks from all sorts of backgrounds and a wide range of playing styles and train them to operate the option at a high level. Aaron Polanco, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Brian Hampton and Jarod Bryant all had vastly different skills, yet Jasper figured out ways to play to their strengths.
"I think Coach Jasper is really good at utilizing the specific abilities and skills of each quarterback he's had. He does a great job of tailoring the offense to each one," said Ricky Dobbs, whose power running and strong passing were highlighted during his two seasons as the full-time starter.
Jasper called a lot of mid-line option plays to take advantage of the fact Dobbs ran like a fullback and the youngster set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27 in 2009.
Of course, that record was broken last year by current Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who rushed for 31 touchdowns while setting a single-season school record with 188 points.
It took Dobbs almost two years to fully grasp the offense and he struggled reading defenses enough that Jasper at one point resorted to having the plays called at the line of scrimmage after he could survey the alignment.
"I think one of Coach Jasper's greatest attributes is his patience. Lord knows, I'm the one who probably tested his patience the most, which made it better for everyone that came behind me," Dobbs said. "I started calling him 'Pops' because he acted like my dad. It got to the point that after every play I was looking for his approval. Coach Jasper just has a way of building a connection with each of the quarterbacks."
Dobbs is like many Navy quarterbacks in that he had zero experience in an option system before arriving in Annapolis. Reynolds also did not know much about the unique attack other than what he saw while watching Navy games on television, but was determined to get it down pat.
Identifying option QB
Jasper said Reynolds has put in the extra time studying the playbook, reviewing film and asking questions. That helps explain why the Tennessee native is the only freshman to ever start for Navy during the current triple-option era.
"Sometimes you get a special guy like Keenan who can come in and pick it up right away. Then there are guys like Ricky who need a year or two to figure it out," Jasper said. "We're going to bring in an athletic kid who can throw the ball and we're going to make him an option quarterback."
Not every quarterback recruit has proved a good fit for the offense. Navy has moved numerous quarterbacks to other positions and many of them have found productive roles. Jasper can usually assess fairly quickly whether or not a particular individual can succeed in the system.
"You can tell during the first year or so if someone has a chance. You can kind of see whether or not they can get the footwork down," he said. "To me, it's all about their body language. If they struggle with the footwork and the reads and just don't look comfortable doing it, they're probably not going to work out. You have to find a kid with the right tools to work with then try to mold them."
Jasper said there is no handbook on how to teach a quarterback to run the triple-option. Practice repetitions, classroom work and film study are the incubators and it's a process that takes time. Jasper administers tests to make sure his pupils understand the rules and reads. However, it is on the field when the real learning happens.
"The first thing we teach every single day is running the triple. That's our textbook. We break it down piece by piece every single practice," he said. "We call it the set and hook-up drill. We talk all about how to read, how to transport your weight, how to handle the mesh, how to deal the pitch. It's just a matter of getting a feel for all the parts. It's a drill that we use to break those guys in. Then you just have to keep repping them day after day until they get it down."
Jasper took on the additional responsibilities of offensive coordinator after Johnson left to become head coach at Georgia Tech. During Jasper's six seasons as play-caller, Navy has averaged almost 385 total yards per game. Last season was one of the most productive in program history with the Mids putting up 411 total yards per game and ranking second nationally in rushing average (325.4).
"Ivin has done a tremendous job with our offense. Our offense has really evolved during his time as coordinator," Niumatalolo said. "Our core base that Ivin and I both learned from Paul is obviously our foundation, but Ivin has done a great job expanding the package. He's added things such as the no-huddle and shotgun."
Jasper credits fellow offensive assistants such as running game coordinator Ashley Ingram, fullbacks coach Mike Judge and slotbacks coach Danny O'Rourke with suggesting wrinkles. Some might argue Navy has taken triple-option football to a new level since Niumatalolo became head coach and elevated Jasper to offensive coordinator.
"The base principles that we learned from Coach Johnson have never changed. We're still running a lot of the plays that we did at Hawaii, just maybe out of a different look or in a different way," Jasper said. "We've added some things here or there, but the basic package is still the same."
Reynolds is entering his third season as the starter and is determined to reach a point that he thinks the same way as Jasper, sees the same things on the field as the master. Yet the reality is Jasper cannot teach all he knows in the span of four years, nor would Reynolds be able to grasp the totality of information.
"Coach Jasper is just on a different level when it comes to this offense. He pulls out stuff all the time that boggles my mind," Reynolds said. "Coach Jasper is absolutely the best teacher I've ever had as far as showing how to run an offense. He's so technical and detailed about everything. He comes in and breaks it down, makes it as clear as he possibly can."
One of Jasper's greatest attributes involves motivation. He is never satisfied and makes sure the quarterbacks know it.
"Coach Jasper doesn't allow us to be complacent. He's always riding us, always pushing us. He knows how to press my buttons to get the best out of me," Reynolds said.
However, after four years of working with Jasper, quarterbacks such as Kaheaku-Enhada, Dobbs and Candeto truly do feel like part of his family.
"It all starts with the fact Ivin is an incredible person who truly cares about the men he coaches. Ivin is someone I really respect from a character standpoint," Candeto said. "I've maintained a relationship with Ivin and that's because I think so highly of him."
NAVY VS. OHIO STATE
Saturday, noon, M&T Bank Stadium
TV: CBSSN. RADIO: 1430-AM; 1090-AM; 980-AM