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Xavier Arline, Maasai Maynor, Tai Lavatai, Jayden Umbarger battling in ‘wide-open’ Navy QB competition

Jayden Umbarger, shown running against St. Mary's while he was Spalding's quarterback in 2018, is in the mix to earn the starting quarterback job at Navy.
Jayden Umbarger, shown running against St. Mary's while he was Spalding's quarterback in 2018, is in the mix to earn the starting quarterback job at Navy. (Matthew Cole / Capital Gazette)

Xavier Arline was listed No. 1 on the depth chart going into Navy football spring practice because of the experience he gained last season. However, the precocious plebe has certainly not solidified the starting job and must fend off competition from the three other signal-callers in the program.

Speaking to the media during an online news conference last week, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said the quarterback competition is wide-open during spring camp. Jasper, who personally coaches the quarterbacks, added that current sophomore Maasai Maynor along with plebes Tai Lavatai and Jayden Umbarger (Spalding) would all get plenty of practice repetitions with the starting offense.

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“I’m not just looking at Xavier. There’s four guys there that are all good football players. They all deserve a shot,” Jasper said. “I know Xavier is No. 1 and got game reps last season, but it’s not like it’s a clear-cut deal.”

Arline started the second game of the season at Tulane and struggled operating the offense, which had been simplified for the freshman. The Long Island native lined up in shotgun formation and Navy ran read-option plays, replicating the type of attack Arline directed at Shoreham-Wading River High.

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Navy football plebes were unable to participate in practice until late August, which severely hampered Arline’s development. The 5-foot-9, 165-pounder was much more familiar with Navy’s triple-option system by the time he was reinstalled as the starter for the ninth game against Tulsa.

Unfortunately for Arline and the Navy offense, the results were not much better than what fans saw all season. However, Arline did finally show some of his athletic talent and dynamic running ability against archrival Army, rushing for 109 yards on 17 carries.

For the season, Arline finished with 210 rushing yards, which remarkably ranked third on the team. He only completed 4 of 12 pass attempts for 27 yards.

Maynor is the only other Navy quarterback who has appeared in a game. The New Jersey native made his collegiate debut toward the end of a lopsided loss to Air Force and displayed decent throwing ability. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 14 yards and also picked up 8 yards on a keeper in leading the Midshipmen deep into enemy territory.

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However, Maynor spoiled the possession by throwing an interception.

“We were very high on Massai going into last spring. Not having spring camp set him back,” Jasper said. “Maasai has been up and down, and we’ve talked about that. He’s shown a lot of progress mentally.”

Quarterback Maasai Maynor (No. 9), shown taking practice repetitions alongside former Navy starting quarterback Malcolm Perry in 2019, is in the mix for the top job.
Quarterback Maasai Maynor (No. 9), shown taking practice repetitions alongside former Navy starting quarterback Malcolm Perry in 2019, is in the mix for the top job. (Tommy Gilligan/AP)

Jasper said Maynor and Lavatai are both outstanding passers, possessing arm strength not seen at Navy since Ricky Dobbs was the starter in 2008 and 2009. Maynor, a product of St. Peter’s Preparatory in New Jersey, had some academic difficulties at the academy that have since been cleared up.

“Maasai is in a much better place right now. He has a lot clearer mind,” Jasper said. “He’s more confident and it’s showing in practice and showing on tests. He’s also a lot more vocal in meetings. He’s like a different kid and I hope that shows up on the practice field.”

Lavatai was the starting quarterback at the Naval Academy Prep School in 2019 and helped propel the program to a victory over the Military Academy Prep School. The Florida native is listed on the roster at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and Jasper indicated the coaching staff would prefer he maintain a lighter playing weight.

“We’re trying to get Tai down to 215 or 210,” he said. “That said, he’s very light on his feet, very athletic. Just an all-around complete player and we’re excited about him.”

In addition to throwing the ball well, Lavatai has developed solid option mechanics, Jasper said.

“Tai just needs to get live reps so we can see how he executes the offense,” Jasper said. “The materials are there for him to be a good quarterback. He just needs to put it all together.”

Umbarger attended the prep school along with Lavatai but did not play much due to a knee injury sustained early in the season. The Archbishop Spalding product arrived in Annapolis and was immediately sidelined due to coronavirus protocols put in place by Naval Academy leadership.

Umbarger was relegated to the scout team and did not gain the game experience normally afforded plebes because the junior varsity campaign was canceled.

Umbarger was named first team All-County by the Capital Gazette and also earned All-Metro and All-State honors after rushing for 1,087 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Spalding. The Baltimore native passed for another 979 yards and five scores.

Jayden Umbarger, shown attempting a pass while he was Spalding's quarterback during a 2018 practice, is in the mix for the Navy starting quarterback job.
Jayden Umbarger, shown attempting a pass while he was Spalding's quarterback during a 2018 practice, is in the mix for the Navy starting quarterback job. (Doug Kapustin / Capital Gazette)

All four quarterbacks will participate fully in live scrimmage situations and will be tackled to the ground. Whenever Navy has an established starting quarterback, that individual wears a green jersey indicating they are off-limits to contact.

Navy began padded practices on Monday with the quarterbacks being required to run plays at full speed with the defense looking to hit the ball-carrier. Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry will attempt to confuse the young quarterbacks with stunts, blitzes and exotic coverages.

“We haven’t gone against our defense yet, so it’s hard to get a true evaluation,” Jasper said last week. “Everybody looks good running around in shorts. It’s a matter of getting into pads, getting live reps and seeing how these guys react.”

Arline is not that much farther ahead than the other three quarterbacks on a lot of levels, Jasper noted. None of them have been with the program long enough to have fully grasped all elements of Navy’s patented version of triple-option offense.

Jasper and coach Ken Niumatalolo would love to see one of the quarterbacks emerge as the clear-cut starter during spring camp. However, it’s quite possible the competition will remain relatively even and carry over into August training camp.

“I’m just looking for overall development — playing tough, playing smart, getting us in the right play, making great decisions and not going out and losing a game. It all starts now,” Jasper said.

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