Practice is pain for QB at Navy

The Baltimore Sun

It was practice, not a game, but Navy's starting quarterback, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, knew the coaches wanted this practice to emulate game-day intensity, and he also knew he had been encouraged to be more aggressive.

So when he was carrying the ball and needed just one more yard for a first down, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (KAI-Po-NOAH cay-HAY-ah-coo-en-HOD-un; his friends call him Kaipo) put his head down and went for it.

The ensuing head-to-head collision snapped his neck back and set off spasms down the left side of his neck that have sidelined him for the week.

Coach Paul Johnson expects him back in the lineup for tomorrow's 9:15 a.m. scrimmage or by Monday at the latest.

"It's nothing serious," Johnson said.

And Kaheaku-Enhada looked fine as he stood on the sideline this week, dressed in the red jersey that identifies the wearer as injured. He was smiling and leading the cheers for backup quarterbacks Jarod Bryant and Troy Goss.

Both of those players were intent on making good impressions in their extra time with the No. 1 unit, but Kaheaku-Enhada seemed genuinely happy about their efforts.

"Football is a competition," said Kaheaku-Enhada, 21. "If something happens in football [like his injury], if they do good, it's really all about the team. I'll be here for them, no matter what."

Kaheaku-Enhada is one of 11 children. His mother had her hands full with nine boys and two girls, and the last thing she needed was for her eldest son to play a game in which he might get seriously hurt.

"My mom didn't want me to play football," Kaheaku-Enhada said impishly. "So, why not play?"

He's at Navy because he enjoys the game and because his grandfather planted a seed about the joys of the Navy long ago.

"My grandfather was in the Navy and he wanted me to join," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "He always said, 'Go out and see the world and the Navy is the best way to do that.' "

Though Kaheaku-Enhada's grandfather died when Kaheaku-Enhada was a high school junior, he remembered their conversations when the Naval Academy called.

"Not only is it a way to see the world, but it came with the chance to play football and be an officer, too," he said.

Naval officers, of course, need leadership ability, and the trait is one of Kaheaku-Enhada's strongest. He said that while he isn't exactly happy about losing his starting quarterback job this week, "I do feel I need to get back in there and be a leader for the team, because that's important."

In more ways than one.

Said Johnson: "There's not a whole lot of difference" among his three quarterbacks.

Kaheaku-Enhada is ahead of Bryant and Goss on the depth chart because of his leadership ability and because he's better able to execute the triple-option offense, which he has been running since he was a junior at Kapolei High School, about 20 miles from Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

"Kaipo's a little smoother in running the offense," Johnson said. "He's able to deal the ball to the right people."

But as quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said, there is always room for improvement. The coach would like the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Kaheaku-Enhada to develop better footwork and become more aggressive. He had emphasized to Kaheaku-Enhada the importance of aggressiveness shortly before the play on which the quarterback was injured.

"I feel bad about that," Jasper said. "I'd been telling him to be more aggressive, but I didn't want to see him do that in a typical scrimmage."

Fourth down in a game, yes. Scrimmage, no.

Kaheaku-Enhada looked just a little sheepish.

"I learned a lesson," he said. "I've got to be smarter."

When asked if a player could lose his starting job because of injury, Johnson hesitated.

"I'm not going to take anyone out of the lineup because he has been injured," Johnson said. "But if someone comes in and plays better [while a player is out injured], the injured player can lose his spot."

Kaheaku-Enhada had been Navy's starting quarterback since the seventh game of last season, when he started against Notre Dame because of a season-ending injury to senior Brian Hampton.

From the moment he stepped onto the field, his coaches have been impressed with his calmness and maturity.

"He was surprising in his first game," Jasper said. "He wasn't nervous. He's a good leader and runs the offense well. ... Of course, he can always get better."

And Jasper added: "I want him to be worried [about his position]. We've got three guys we can compete with. Kaipo has a confidence about him [that sets him apart]. But they all cheer for each other.

"It's unique in that at other schools the starter usually doesn't have much to do with the backups. But here, the team comes first. It's important for us to have a guy who can come in and keep the team moving if something happens. It's even better if you have three guys who can do the job."

A year ago, Kaheaku-Enhada, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, rushed for 507 yards and 10 touchdowns, but his passing game was suspect with just 384 yards and five touchdown throws.

This year, he hopes to improve. Johnson hopes so, too.

"I think he's gotten better since last season," Johnson said. "The proof will be in the pudding. ... If he doesn't have a good day, we're probably not going to win."

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