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Sophomore linemen Donald Berniard and Westminster grad Jacob Busic emerging as playmakers for Navy defense

Navy defensive end Jacob Busic (95) and nose guard Donald Berniard Jr. (90) are fired up as they celebrate the former making a tackle against Air Force. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
Navy defensive end Jacob Busic (95) and nose guard Donald Berniard Jr. (90) are fired up as they celebrate the former making a tackle against Air Force. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams) (Terrance Williams/AP)

Biscuit and Busic.

It sounds like a law firm, or perhaps a sports talk radio tandem.

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But, in fact, the reference is to the two sophomore defensive linemen who are emerging as playmakers for the Navy football team.

Nose guard Donald “Biscuit” Berniard and end Jacob Busic both earned rave reviews from defensive coordinator Brian Newberry for their play against Air Force Sept. 11. Going against a fellow service academy with a strong option rushing attack was a big challenge for the two youngsters and, by all accounts, they responded well.

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Berniard was a disruptive force in the middle and finished with seven tackles, one of which was for a loss. The 6-foot, 270-pound nose guard held the point of attack and stuffed the fullback dive.

“Biscuit played his tail off on [Sept. 11]. He’s a tough dude who plays with a chip on his shoulder and plays really hard,” Newberry said last week. “He was super physical on the interior and was hard to block. He’s really good in these academy games.”

Busic was only credited with two tackles but made his presence felt repeatedly. The Westminster High product set the edge and several times broke into the backfield to blow up plays.

“Jacob Busic, in his first time playing a game like that, really showed me a lot about what he’s made of,” Newberry said. “Busic and Biscuit are both really tough and play really hard. I couldn’t be more pleased with those two guys and their development.”

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Berniard caught the attention of the coaching staff with his stout play on the scout team last season and wound up starting the last six games at nose guard, a real rarity for a plebe. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native is vastly improved because of the valuable game experience.

Newberry credits strength and conditioning coordinator Bryan Fitzpatrick for putting weight and muscle on Berniard and assistant coach Jerrick Hall with refining the nose guard’s technique.

“Biscuit has improved tremendously from last season to now. I think Coach Hall has done a great job of developing him and Coach Fitzpatrick and the strength staff have done a great job of changing his body in the weight room,” Newberry said. “We’re seeing him progress and start really coming into his own at that position.”

Busic went from playing defensive tackle on the scout team in the fall to ascending to the top of the depth chart at end in the spring. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound defender is showing the potential the coaching staff raved about during preseason camp.

“I keep saying this about Busic — his ceiling is really, really high. He’s a good player now and he’s going to get even better,” Newberry said.

Busic made his varsity debut in the season opener against Marshall and admits it was eye-opening. For the three-time All-Carroll County Times selection, it was a world away from playing against Manchester Valley.

“I definitely felt I made improvement from Marshall to Air Force. Things slowed down. My visual keys slowed down, and my nerves calmed down,” Busic said. “I still have a long way to go. I need to continue to make improvement with each practice and every game.”

Navy had big shoes to fill with the departure of Jackson Perkins, a two-year starter at defensive end. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound captain had the ideal frame for the position and earned the respect of coaches for effectively doing his job play after play.

Navy defensive end Jacob Busic sacks Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels in the second quarter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sept. 11.
Navy defensive end Jacob Busic sacks Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels in the second quarter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sept. 11. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Busic has similar measurables to Perkins while also possessing a high motor. He is fortunate that Perkins is serving in a graduate assistant role while on temporary assignment duty at the Naval Academy.

Perkins, along with assistant coach Kevin Downing, has helped teach Busic the proper footwork and how to use his hands.

“I give Coach Downing and Jackson Perkins all the credit for helping me make this transition from tackle to end,” he said. “Jackson has been an amazing mentor, and sometimes I go back to my room and watch film of how he played the position.”

Downing saw during spring practice that Busic could give Navy what it needed at defensive end. Busic, like Berniard, made strides in the weight room and impressed the coaching staff with his effort during conditioning sessions.

Downing said Busic was active and always around the ball during spring drills.

“Jacob Busic is a very long, athletic kid who can really rush the quarterback,” Downing said. “What jumps off the page about Jacob is the way he can run. He’s very fast for a defensive lineman of that size.”

Hall had a feeling Berniard was due for a big game against Air Force after watching him closely throughout the week of practice.

“I liked the mentality I saw out of Biscuit during the week of prep. He knew it was going to be a dogfight because when you play a triple-option team the pad level is always lower and guys are coming hard off the ball,” Hall said.

For a nose guard to notch seven tackles in a game is notable, but Berniard is not basking in the glow of that outing.

“I’m not satisfied. One game does not define me as a player,” he said. “You need to maintain the mindset of working hard and grinding.”

Berniard and Busic became friends while spending the 2020-21 academic year at the Naval Academy Prep School. They started at the same positions while playing games against other prep schools or college junior varsity teams.

“Two years ago today, we were playing right next to each other at the prep school,” Busic said. “It’s great to be back next to Biscuit again because we feed off each other’s energy. When I see him make a play it fires me up and makes me want to do something special as well.”

Navy nose guard Donald Berniard Jr. sacks Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels in the first quarter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sept. 11.
Navy nose guard Donald Berniard Jr. sacks Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels in the first quarter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sept. 11. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

While very different positions with regard to assignments and techniques, the nose guard and end must work in tandem. Berniard benefits whenever Busic establishes the edge and drives a running play inside or pressures the quarterback and forces him to step up in the pocket.

“We have developed a chemistry and we want to keep building on that,” Berniard said. “I think you can expect to see good things out of us going forward.”

Newberry relishes the thought of having Berniard and Busic anchor the defensive line for the next three seasons. Downing likes the fact both sophomores have a burning desire to be great and spend a lot of time together watching film and talking football.

“I think those two young guys have very bright futures,” Downing said.

NAVY@HOUSTON

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Stream: ESPNU Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM

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