There was a No. 54 running around on defense during the first Navy football preseason practice.
It was a somewhat strange sight since the player who wore that number with distinction for three seasons is currently in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens. However, it was inevitable that someone else was going to be issued the jersey and it made sense that Diego Fagot had a hand in choosing which player that was.
Will Harbour is expected to replace Fagot as Navy’s starter at the MIKE inside linebacker position. . The 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior is built similarly to Fagot, albeit not quite as tall or heavy.
Fagot saw a lot of himself in Harbour and last season jokingly started calling the youngster “my little brother.” Fagot, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent, is passing down his number to Harbour.
“Diego and I are great friends and he asked if I would wear it,” Harbour said. “At the end of the day, it’s just a number. It’s all about what you do while you’re wearing it.”
Fagot was merely maintaining a new tradition at Navy that began when he was asked to wear No. 54 by outgoing senior Taylor Heflin, an inside linebacker who led the team in tackles in 2018.
“Taylor Heflin passed 54 down to Diego and now Diego has passed it down to Wil,” inside linebackers coach PJ Volker said. “To have the opportunity to wear 54 is a special deal for an L beast at Navy.”
Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry did not realize Harbour had switched from 59 to 54 until he saw him on the practice field last week. He’s not worried about Harbour trying too hard to fill the shoes of Fagot.
“If anybody can wear that number on our team, Will would be the one because he certainly will represent it well,” Newberry said.
Harbour burst onto the scene during spring camp as a plebe, displaying the type of power and aggression the coaching staff likes to see at the position. Harbour earned the 2021 Vice Admiral Mack Award as Navy’s most improved player during spring drills.
“Will Harbour is focused, fast and physical on the field,” Volker told The Capital at the time. “He’s tough, smart and absolutely loves football. He plays with the type of elite effort we’re looking for.”
Harbour continued to impress during training camp and by the the season opener was Navy’s second-best inside linebacker behind Fagot. He went from backing up Fagot at Mike to starting next to the standout senior at Will, or weak-side linebacker.
Harbor totaled 25 tackles through four games, but got hurt early against SMU and missed most of that contest. He tried to come back the following week at Memphis, but made just two tackles before departing with what proved a season-ending injury.
Harbor underwent offseason surgery and was non-contact throughout spring practice, bringing a disappointing end to a sophomore year that started with such promise.
“It was pretty frustrating. It’s always tough going through adversity,” said Harbour, who stayed engaged by attending meetings, watching lots of film and getting as many mental repetitions as possible. “Although I lost time, I’m doing everything I can right now to be the best I can this season. It’s good to be back and I’m feeling great.”
Harbour was a Class 5A second team All-State selection at Rick Reedy High, where he played middle linebacker and even some quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
“Will played a little bit of quarterback in high school so he understands offensive structure and what offenses are trying to do,” Volker said. “He’s got the ability to process things before the snap – to see the formation, see the backfield set, see the offensive line.”
Volker saw some of Fagot in Harbour in terms of intensity and focused mindset. He liked that even as a plebe Harbour wanted to work out alongside Fagot during weight training or conditioning drills.
“Diego and I would push each other in workouts or during practice. We became really close through all that competition,” Harbour said.
This offseason, it was Harbour pushing the younger linebackers such as sophomores Jianni Woodson-Brooks, Colin Ramos and Tyler Fletcher.
“I’ll be honest, Will is just tenacious with his work ethic. He goes the extra mile with everything he does and it’s infectious,” Volker said. “Will is an extremely positive young man and a delight to be around… just a wonderful influence on every guy we have in the room.”
What made Fagot a three-time All-American Athletic Conference selection was his playmaking ability. He was always around the ball causing fumbles, recovering fumbles or snatching interceptions. He had the ability to get into the backfield and wreak havoc, whether blitzing on run or pass plays.
Needless to say, Fagot was a rare talent among Midshipmen as evidenced by the fact he’s now auditioning for the NFL. However, Volker is confident Harbour can perform the same responsibilities asked of the inside linebacker who plays to the field side of the formation.
“Obviously, a big piece of playing Mike linebacker for us is that you’ve got to be a guy that can fill gaps, get downhill, attack the ball and finish in a dominant position,” Volker said. “We have put an emphasis on being disruptive and Will is phenomenal at doing that. He’s already gotten hands on a bunch of balls and had a couple interceptions already this camp.”
Harbour has also displayed a superb understanding of the overall defensive schemes. He replaces Fagot as the player making most of the defensive calls at the line of scrimmage.
While Harbour is the leader of the unit, Volker is thrilled by what he’s seeing in practice out of backup Mike Woodson-Brooks, a Washington, D.C. native who prepped at Woodberry Forest. Meanwhile, Colin Ramos and Tyler Fletcher are engaged in a good battle for the starting spot at Will.
“I feel like we’ve got four starters. All those guys can go into the game and operate at a high level,” Volker said. “We’re going to be deeper than we’ve ever been we’re going to play more guys than we have my first three seasons and we’re going to be fresher as a result.”