Navy football senior day showcases 25 classmates who persevered through tough times

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Navy’s Camari Williams catches a big pass and pushes his way into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter of a game against Wagner on Sept. 9. Williams and all the other Navy football seniors, will be honored before Saturday's game against East Carolina.

Navy football has a tradition that is quite meaningful and powerful.

On Friday night at the hotel prior to the final home game of the season, each of the seniors is given an opportunity to address the entire team.


It is an extremely emotional session with the seniors opening up about their experience at the Naval Academy and providing advice for the underclassmen.

Wide receiver Camari Williams always came away from those meetings feeling both enlightened and fulfilled.


“I feel like some of the things the seniors say as far as their perspective about their time with Navy football is something I paid a lot of attention to and held in my heart,” Williams said.

Williams, one of 25 seniors who will be honored during a ceremony before Saturday’s game against East Carolina, is hopeful first-year coach Brian Newberry will continue the tradition.

Williams would like to have the opportunity to stand up in front of teammates and tell them how much he loves and respects them. He also has some words of wisdom for the underclassmen, especially the plebes.

“I would tell them that time at the academy truly does fly by and to enjoy it while they have it. Once football is over you have to go face the real world,” Williams said. “Also, just wait your turn. Not everybody is meant to play as a freshman or sophomore. Some people have to wait until senior year to play.”

That is somewhat the case for Williams, who has gradually worked his way up the depth chart and did not become a starter until this season. Williams played exclusively on special teams as a sophomore and served primarily in a blocking role as a junior

Williams has finally gotten a chance to be a playmaker as a senior and has seven receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. He had not caught a single pass coming into this season.

“One thing I’ve always prayed for is the power of patience. Just learning how to wait my turn,” Williams said. “Other people played ahead of me and I wasn’t jealous or envious. I was their biggest fan and tried to take pointers from them to work on my own game.

“To finally have an opportunity to start for the Midshipmen has been a dream come true.”


Contained in that comment is another aspect of the message Williams would deliver if allowed to address the younger players on Friday night at the team hotel. The most valuable advice he would give is to “just be a good dude.”

Unless you’re a Keenan Reynolds or Malcolm Perry, a lot of people aren’t going to remember your play on the field. People will always remember if you were a good teammate,” Williams said.

Navy senior wide receiver Camari Williams, shown in action during the second half of last season's Notre Dame game, said the most important message he has for the sophomores and plebes is to be a good teammate. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Williams has certainly practiced what he’s preached. He and fellow wide receiver Jayden Umbarger bonded as company mates and football teammates at the Naval Academy Prep School. Umbarger was actually recruited out of Archbishop Spalding as a quarterback and threw Williams a touchdown pass during a prep school game.

Their friendship grew stronger after Umbarger was moved to wide receiver during the spring of his plebe year. Umbarger zoomed up the depth chart right past his pal and wound up playing a prominent role on offense as a sophomore, gaining 130 yards on 11 carries while earning the title of “Mr. Reverse.”

Williams could have been envious that a classmate who had only recently become a receiver was getting so much playing time. Instead, he became Umbarger’s No. 1 cheerleader.

Navy’s program for the Alabama-Birmingham game contained an in-depth senior profile of Umbarger and he was pictured on the cover. Williams made sure to find a copy of the game program and get his friend to autograph the cover.


“That’s a keepsake for me because people are going to want Jayden’s autograph and I’ll already have it. Because I could see him being the Commandant of the Marine Corps one day,” Williams said.

Bond of brotherhood

On July 14, 2020, Navy football announced a recruiting class of 51 players representing 21 states. Only 25 members of the Class of 2024 are still part of the program with the 50% attrition rate not surprising considering the circumstances.

These current seniors endured a nightmare of a plebe year as the Naval Academy navigated the coronavirus pandemic. There were periodic lockdowns of Bancroft Hall and midshipmen routinely went into isolation. Life at a service academy is tough under normal circumstances and became almost unbearable in the time of COVID.

“Going back to plebe year, it was rough with COVID and that awkward season. Each day was a fight for every one of us. It’s always been about the bond of brotherhood and sticking together,” senior safety Eavan Gibbons said. “All the seniors that are still here … those are some tough dudes. We’ve been through it all. We bonded together during the tough times and that’s what created that brotherhood, that love for each other.”

This senior class has endured three straight losing seasons and a coaching change. They were recruited by former coach Ken Niumatalolo and are closing out their careers under Newberry.

“It was difficult to be a senior and have a coaching change. Getting over some of those old traditions and the way we used to do things was tough,” Williams said. “It was on us as seniors to move forward and embrace the new culture Coach Newberry and the staff we’re trying to build. We had to leave the past in the past and move forward.”


Navy football did not accomplish any of its primary goals during the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons. This year’s team has already lost the chance to capture the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy thanks to an ugly loss to Air Force. However, two goals are still on the table as Navy (4-5) can still beat archrival Army and become bowl eligible.

The Midshipmen must repel the Pirates on Saturday in order to have any shot at the postseason. Navy is hoping to close the regular season with a four-game winning streak.

“Our main goal as a senior class is to flip this season around and get Navy football going in the right direction,” senior outside linebacker Xavier McDonald said. “We want this to be a turning point in the program. We want to set a foundation for future teams to build on.”

All 25 of the remaining seniors have their own unique story. Nose guard Donald “Biscuit” Berniard became a starter midway through his freshman season and has been a very productive performer. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native has made 39 straight starts and needs only three tackles to reach 100 for his career.

Quarterback Xavier Arline started three games as a plebe, including against Army at Michie Stadium in West Point. The Long Island native has played in 27 career games with 11 starts at quarterback, but it’s been a rollercoaster ride.

Arline was the backup quarterback as a sophomore and junior and wound up starting games because of injuries sustained by starter Tai Lavatai. He spent most of this season playing slotback before being switched to quarterback late last month.


Things have come full circle for Arline and he is the starting quarterback once again, on track to lead the Navy offense against Army for the third time in his career.

Navy's Donald Berniard Jr. (90) reacts to a play during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is outside linebacker Chaisen Buckner, who is currently serving on the scout team. Buckner played in nine games as a member of special teams as a sophomore, but has not seen any varsity action the last two seasons.

Buckner said this week he takes pride in being a senior leader of the defensive scout team and mentoring the sophomores and freshmen. He sets a great example by giving great effort in practice every day and encourages the young guys to do the same.

“My message is to embrace your role. You don’t have to be the star player to make an impact,” he said.

Buckner hails from Chatsworth, Georgia, a small town of less than 5,000 located in the foothills of Fort Mountain and Cohutta Mountain. He is believed to be the first Chatsworth native to attend the Naval Academy and will graduate with honors as he carries a 3.71 grade point average as a robotics and control engineering major.

“It seems like yesterday that I was a plebe and all the COVID mess was going on and we were wearing those neck gaiters out here [at practice],” Buckner said. “In a blink of an eye, service selection is in a few days and Senior Day is a couple days after that. It’s surreal and bittersweet, for sure.


“You can ask anybody that’s gone to the Naval Academy. It’s a treacherous journey, but it’s rewarding.”

Senior wide receiver John Meagher will complete his career having never played in a varsity game. The Oxford, Mississippi, native hoped to contribute on special teams as a senior before suffering a broken hand.

Meagher’s father and brother are both academy graduates and former members of the football team. He never considered quitting the football team, due in part to that legacy and the ideals of leadership.

“A big part of the reason I came to the academy was because of my father and brother. There is no way I would be able to look them in the eyes if I were to quit,” Meagher said. “Also, I would be doing a disservice to my future self and the people I’m going to serve with if I were to quit just because I’m not playing as much as I would like to.”

Jacob Busic, Lirion Murtezi and Cole Williams are multi-year starters who will not suit up on Senior Day as all three suffered season-ending injuries. Quarterback Tai Lavatai, a starter in 23 of the 25 games in which he’s played, will also sit out Saturday’s contest while recovering from a leg injury, but hopes to be available for the Army-Navy game.

Eight seniors are listed as starters going into Saturday’s game, including the aforementioned Arline, Williams, Umbarger, Berniard and McDonald. Other senior starters are offensive tackle Sam Glover, offensive guard Josh Pena, defensive tackle Clay Cromwell and inside linebacker Will Harbour.


“It’s a tough group of men that have been through so much and overcome a lot,” McDonald said. “I have the utmost respect for all the guys who wound up staying. They persevered and kept pushing.”

Service Assignments for Navy football seniors

Xavier Arline: Marine Corps Ground; Donald Berniard: Surface Warfare; Chaisen Buckner: Marine Corps Ground; Jacob Busic: Marine Corps Ground; Willie Collins V: Surface Warfare; Khalil Crawford: Marine Corps Ground; Clay Cromwell: Marine Corps Ground; Eavan Gibbons: Navy Pilot; Sam Glover: Surface Warfare; Will Harbour: Navy Pilot; Daniel Jones: Marine Corps Ground; Akalea Kapono: Information Professional; Tai Lavatai: Surface Warfare; Xavier McDonald: Navy Pilot; John Meagher: Navy Pilot; Marcus Moore: Surface Warfare; Lirion Murtezi: Supply Corps; Colin O’Connor: Marine Corps Ground; Josh Pena: Surface Warfare (nuclear); Mike Petrof: Surface Warfare; Kai Puailoa-Rojas: Marine Corps Ground; Jayden Umbarger: Marine Corps Ground; Evan Warren: Navy Pilot; Camari Williams: Surface Warfare; Cole Williams: Marine Corps Ground