Diego Fagot was selected as the Tony Rubino Memorial Silver Helmet Award winner last year. However, he was never formally presented with the prestigious trophy that has honored the Navy football program’s most outstanding player since 1957.
That’s because the Touchdown Club of Annapolis, which created the Silver Helmet Award, did not hold its annual football award banquet in 2021 because of coronavirus concerns.
However, Fagot became a repeat winner of the Tony Rubino Memorial Silver Helmet Award this year and will be doubly honored next month when the Touchdown Club’s signature event returns after a one-year hiatus.
Navy’s standout inside linebacker is one of two collegiate award winners and will be joined by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, recipient of the Louis L. Goldstein Gold Helmet Award as University of Maryland’s most outstanding football player.
Fagot and Tagovailoa will be officially recognized and presented with their trophies during the 67th annual Touchdown Club of Annapolis football awards banquet on Feb. 17 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Annapolis.
Fagot capped an outstanding career by leading Navy in tackles (94) and tackles for loss (11) for the third straight season. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound inside linebacker was also credited with six quarterback hurries, returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown against SMU, and forced a fumble that set up the game-winning touchdown against Central Florida.
Fagot closed out his senior season with a superb performance against archrival Army, leading Navy with nine tackles and teaming with end Jacob Busic to stop quarterback Christian Anderson short on a fourth-and-3 play to seal a 17-13 victory. He also made the most memorable play of the game, picking up a first down off a surprise fake punt to set up the clinching field goal.
Fagot was named first team All-American Athletic Conference for the second time. He was also a first team selection as a sophomore and earned second team honors as a sophomore.
Fagot was also voted All-East and selected to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, a senior all-star event being held Feb. 3 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Fagot, who started 35 games dating back to the end of his freshman season, amassed 282 career tackles. He ranks sixth on Navy’s all-time list with 35 ½ career tackles for loss. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native is just the third defender to lead Navy in tackles for three straight seasons, joining safety Josh Smith (2002-04) and linebacker Andy Ponseigo (1981-83).
“Diego Fagot is an elite football player who has everything – size, speed, toughness and physicality,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He is great against the run and the pass, equally as effective in the box or out in space. He is super-smart and like a coach on the field. He is absolutely relentless and plays with incredible effort.”
Niumatalolo considers Clint Bruce and Ross Pospisil to be the best inside linebackers to play for Navy during his 24 years with the program. He believes Fagot has surpassed both of those players to become the best inside linebacker in program history.
Fagot is a highly-regarded NFL prospect and scouts from almost every franchise have come to Annapolis to evaluate him. He is likely to follow in the footsteps of recent Navy standouts Joe Cardona, Keenan Reynolds and Malcolm Perry by being taken in the 2022 NFL draft.
Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry, who implemented numerous schemes designed to take advantage of Fagot’s ability to disrupt offenses, believes his star defender will excel at the professional level.
“I think Diego has the basic skill set in terms of the combination of size, strength and speed. I think he fits the profile of [middle] linebacker in the NFL,” Newberry said. “I think what separates Diego is his brain, just the way he approaches everything he does. I think it’s the intangible things that set him apart.”
Fagot is just the fifth two-time winner of the Silver Helmet, joining Heisman Trophy halfback Joe Bellino (1959, 1960), College Football Hall of Fame safety Chet Moeller (1974, 1975), record-setting tailback Napoleon McCallum (1983, 1985) and quarterback Craig Candeto (2002, 2003). Reynolds and legendary quarterback Roger Staubach are the only three-time winners.
Tagovailoa became the first quarterback to start every game of a season for Maryland since C.J. Brown did so in 2014. He enjoyed a sensational season in leading the Terps to its first winning season since 2014 and first postseason victory since 2010.
Tagovailoa posted prolific statistics, completing 328 of 474 passes for 3,860 yards and 26 touchdowns. He shattered the single-season school records for passing yards and completions while equaling the mark for touchdown throws.
Scott Milanovich had held the passing yards (3,400) and touchdowns records since 1993, while John Kaleo owned the completions mark (286) since 1992. Those records were set when Maryland employed a run-and-shoot offense under coach Mark Duffner.
“What a great honor for Taulia, who had one of the best statistical seasons of any quarterback that has ever worn a Terrapin uniform. His numbers speak for themselves, but as a coach, I’m most proud of the way he developed as a leader,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “He has a tremendous work ethic and I think he’ll continue to improve while also pushing his teammates to be great.”
Tagovailoa closed out the season by completing 20 of 24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns to lead a 54-10 rout of Virginia Tech in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, held at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. He was named Most Valuable Player after directing an offense that rolled up 481 total yards as the Terps handed the Hokies their most lopsided loss since 1982.
“I hope it quiets some of the critics and Taulia gets the respect he deserves,” Locksley said afterward. “We wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for Taulia. I’m really proud of him and how he responded. He’s had a positive impact on others.”
Tagovailoa was named honorable mention All-Big Ten Conference by both the media and the coaches. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound redshirt sophomore ranked top three in the conference in seven statistical categories.
The native of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, is the younger brother of Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Thompson High product followed his older brother to Alabama and saw sparse action in five games as a true freshman in 2019.
The younger Tagovailoa transferred to Maryland after Locksley was hired as coach. Locksley had previously served as offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide and had built a relationship with the talented quarterback.
Tagovailoa started four of Maryland’s five games during the abbreviated 2020 season and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten. He was the first Maryland quarterback to earn all-conference honors since Shaun Hill in 2001 when the Terps played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Tagovailoa was also a finalist for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award. He was an Academic All-District selection by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Touchdown Club Banquet
When: Feb. 17 (6 p.m., cocktails; 7 p.m., dinner)
Where: DoubleTree Hotel, Riva Road, Annapolis