Army’s loss has been Navy’s gain the last four years.
After graduating from Liberty High School in Las Vegas in 2014, Jarvis Polu committed to play football for Army. His father had retired from the Army after 25 years and Polu was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Polu had been recruited by Army coach Rich Ellerson, but Ellerson was fired following the 2013 season.
It was time for Polu to re-evaluate his future.
“With my dad having a heavy Army background as well as his three brothers, I just figured Army was the place for me,” Polu said. “I never had been recruited by Navy to that point and I never knew Coach Niumatalolo and how good of a dude he was. My parents just loved the environment and loved that it’s not only football.”
Niumatalolo and former defensive line coach Shaun Nua each paid a visit to Polu, who eventually switched his commitment to Navy. Following a year at the Naval Academy Prep School, Polu reported to Annapolis and played in every games as a freshman.
Polu recorded his first career sack in a 2015 victory over Army West Point then assumed a starting role as a sophomore. He has started 39 straight games entering Saturday’s battle with the Black Knights in Philadelphia.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing because we lost the last couple years,” Polu said. “I respect them. They always come out hard. All the hype with the Army-Navy game is true, with the rivalry and everything.”
Polu was mentored by Nua for three years, but the former Pittsburgh Steelers standout was lured away from Navy by new Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards during the offseason. Sione Po’uha, who played defensive tackle for the New York Jets for seven years, took over for Nua and has liked what he’s seen from Polu.
“He’s a leader by example,” Po’uha said. “Not only what he does, but how he does it is probably what stands out the most. He doesn’t really complain, and he not only sets an example, but how he goes about doing things is probably the most impressive thing.”
Polu enters Saturday’s game with 30 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries. The 6-foot-3, 292-pounder had a season-high seven tackles against Air Force and recorded five tackles in two other games (SMU, Notre Dame).
Polu has blocked extra point attempts in two games, including one versus SMU that produced points as cornerback Jarid Ryan scooped the loose ball and scored.
“He’s one of those guys who perfects his craft,” Po’uha said. “He’s a guy who always looks at the small details of his techniques in order to make himself better. That’s what a leader is.”
After seeing action in all 13 games as a plebe, Polu had his finest season as a sophomore when he recorded 53 tackles (four for loss) and three sacks. He notched at least four tackles in eight games, including a career high nine against Army. He enters Saturday’s showdown with 120 career tackles (9 ½ for loss), 4 ½ sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Polu was a first team All-State selection his senior year in high school and was named the Nevada Defensive Player of the Year. In addition to Army, the Liberty High standout also had offers from Wisconsin, Duke, Utah, Utah State, Colorado, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV and Washington State.
In August, Polu was named to the Watch List for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award for the second straight season. The list includes 50 players from 34 Football Bowl Subdivision schools and includes the likes of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Maryland offensive lineman Brendan Moore and Polu’s brother, Justin, who plays for UNLV.
It is presented annually to the most outstanding Polynesian college football and past winners include Marcus Mariota (Oregon, Tennessee Titans) and Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame, Baltimore Ravens). This year’s winner will be announced on Dec. 14.
Niumatalolo was inducted into the Polynesian Hall of Fame in 2014.
“As I was growing up, I was watching all the Polynesian football players,” said Polu, who was born in Hawaii. “It’s pretty big because it means I’m one of the role models in the very small Polynesian community.”
Following his final game on Saturday against the team he originally committed to, Polu will enter the Marine Corps upon graduation in the spring.