Mike Martin has struggled to find a foothold with the Navy football program.
Martin arrived in Annapolis as a fairly highly-touted slotback recruit from Pine Bush High in upstate New York.
The Capital wrote a recruiting story about Martin when he was a senior in high school because he chose Navy over archrival Army even though he grew up less than an hour from West Point.
Navy usually has about 15-17 slotbacks on the roster so the competition at that position is quite fierce. Martin did not see any varsity action as either a freshman or a sophomore and found himself on the move.
Martin was initially moved to safety prior to spring practice and dropped down to 195 pounds in order to improve his speed, quickness and agility. Things did not work out at that position and head coach Ken Niumatalolo informed the youngster he was heading to fullback.
“I’ve been switching around a lot and coming over to fullback I wanted to make sure I knew everything I could about the position so when it came my time I would be ready to go,” Martin said last week.
First order of business for Martin was to recover the weight he lost in order to play safety. He currently checks in at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, still a lot lighter than the typical Navy fullback.
“When I was told I was moving to fullback I tried to put on as much weight as I could because the fullback takes a beating in this offense,” Martin said.
It took a full year at the position to get acclimated, but Martin has finally put himself in position to earn significant playing time. It’s now or never for the senior, who is battling sophomore Nelson Smith for the backup job.
“We feel good about Mike. He’s come a long, long way. We’ve seen him grow, both on and off the field,” Navy fullbacks coach Mike Judge said. “It kind of goes hand in hand. Mike started handling some business in the classroom and his personal life and that is translating to handling business on the field.”
Navy is working to rebuild the depth chart at fullback after losing starter Chris High and backup Josh Walker. Anthony Gargiulo started three games down the stretch last season and is the clear-cut No. 1 going into next Saturday’s opener against Hawaii.
Gargiulo began the 2017 campaign as the third string fullback, but elevated due to improved practice performance and injuries sustained by both Walker and High. The New Jersey native earned enough respect for his work ethic to be voted offensive captain by teammates.
“Anthony has done a nice job of taking a leadership role we needed him to take – both within the offense as a whole and in the position room,” Judge said. “Anthony is doing fine and progressing the way we expect.”
Gargiulo rushed for a career-high 145 yards versus SMU and followed with 87 yards at Notre Dame and 71 against Houston. The 6-foot-2, 239-pounder is a real bulldozer, capable of running over defenders and right through attempted tackles. Judge was asked what he wanted Gargiulo to work on during the offseason.
“Just to continue to expand his knowledge of the offense and become more comfortable with it so he can play faster,” Judge said. “Last year, I think Anthony was still trying to figure his way through things. He had some really big games for us down the stretch, stepped into some tough situations and had some success. We want to see him continue to grow and expand his role in the offense.”
Three other fullbacks – Martin, Smith and Akili Taylor – combined for just 14 carries a year ago. Martin saw his most extensive action against Central Florida, carrying five times for 19 yards. Smith was also pressed into duty during the loss to UCF as both High and Walker were unavailable.
“I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting three years for a shot. I got a taste of it last season against Central Florida and had a blast out there on the field,” Martin said. “I’m ready to go out and play right now. I’m anxious for the season to start.”
As a former slotback and high school tailback, Martin has the speed to get the edge and brings an added dimension to the position. He would provide a nice change of pace to Garguilo, who is almost strictly a between-the-tackles bruiser.
“I’m really encouraged with where Mike is at this point. I think he brings a different dynamic to the group. I think he’s kind of in the Quinton Singleton mold where he can be a perimeter guy,” Judge said. “In the spring, Mike outran the defense on a play. If Mike gets a crease, he has a chance to go a long way.”
Judge said it’s his responsibility to showcase the skills of Martin by utilizing him properly.
“We have to use him in the right spots. He’s not going to be your every down, hit it up into the A or B gap type of runner. He can do that, but not all the time,” Judge said. “I think Mike is best when you get the ball on the perimeter and out in space. He can be a problem there.”
Martin was grateful to finally get on the field last season, but acknowledged he did not do enough in practice to earn more playing time.
“Yes, I did make some progress, but at the same time I wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked to be. There were mishaps here and there,” he said. “I just need to be more consistent. That was really my biggest downfall. That is what I worked on the most this past spring – just trying to be consistent every day.”
Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said Smith is the most explosive fullback on the team, very quick coming out of his stance and hitting the line of scrimmage extremely fast. The 5-foot-9, 212-pound product of Parkview Baptist High in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is blessed with a powerful lower body and is difficult to bring down.
Smith proved a valuable special teams performer as a freshman, playing in all 12 games and recording three tackles as a member of the coverage units.
News and notes from Navy football training camp. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said the coaching staff will settle on an updated depth chart, which will also determine which players serve on the offensive and defensive scout teams.
There is good competition behind the top three fullbacks with senior Bryan Hammond trying to fend off sophomore Jonnie Lee in hopes of making the travel squad. Taylor, the other senior with playing experience, is injured and could possibly miss the entire season.
Hammond saw his first varsity action during mop-up time of the Military Bowl blowout of Virginia, but did not carry the ball. The Colony, Texas, resident was the 2017 Admiral Mack Award winner as Navy’s most improved player during spring camp.
“Bryan is just like Mike (Martin) in that he’s paid his dues and earned every opportunity he’s gotten,” Judge said. “Bryan knows what’s going on. He’s just waiting for that opportunity to get into a game. If he had to go into a game, we feel really confident with him. Mentally, Bryan is really sharp and he’s had some really good practices this camp.”
Judge said Lee, like his classmate Smith, has come a long way in a short period of time. Lee is a Bowie resident who attended Riverdale Baptist and has a twin brother who plays at Hampton.
“This offseason, Jon Lee put together quite a campaign. He’s really done a nice job of learning the offense,” Judge said. “He’s a smart kid who probably over-analyzes things a bit, but he’s not far off from Nelson. I think those two young guys are going to see some time this year.”