Adversity no match for Navy's motivation

By Anthony Andro

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but nothing can slow down the Navy football team.

Not losing starting quarterback Tago Smith in the first game of the season. Not losing his replacement, breakout star quarterback Will Worth in the American Athletic Conference championship game. Not losing starting slot back and co-captain Toneo Gulley, who also was lost for the season against Temple with a knee injury.

It’s going to take a little more than injury adversity to keep the Midshipmen from accomplishing major goals. They’ll have a chance to accomplish those Friday when they face Louisiana Tech in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Despite those injuries, Navy has a chance at consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in program history. That’s a storied history that dates back 127 years. But in the first 125 years the program reached double figures in wins twice. Friday Navy (9-4) has a chance to make it 2 for its last 2 in 10-win campaigns.

That’s a huge motivation for a team that’s been ranked in the top 25 this year and topped then No. 6-ranked Houston before ending its regular season with consecutive losses.

“It’s a huge milestone for us, especially the way the last two games have gone in the conference championship (a 34-10 loss to Temple) and then against our rival (a 21-17 loss to Army),” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We didn’t want our seniors to lose sight of the fact they can do something no other team has done. That’s really a huge milestone. Navy has been playing football for over a century and to be the first team to win 10-plus games is big.”

Niumatalolo has stressed that – and the fact that Navy has a chance for its fourth-straight bowl win – to his team as they have prepped for a game against a high-octane offense in Louisiana Tech.

The message has been received.

“We’re a group of guys that no matter what, we’re going to bounce back,” said Navy senior defensive end Amos Mason, who has 53 tackles and two sacks this season. “No matter how hard things get, no matter if things go our way or fall the other way, we keep pushing forward. We’ve had things that have set us back but no matter what, we’ve come back swinging. Back-to-back 10-win seasons would be huge. People don’t get it that often at all.”

And while 10 is a big number for Navy, it’s not the ultimate one. While there are players on Louisiana Tech who will have a chance at continuing their football career professionally, that’s not the case for most Navy players. Friday’s game marks the end for most Navy seniors who will follow football with military service.

The chance to suit up one final time is as big or bigger than 10 to them.

“It’s a great statistic,” said Jamir Tillman, the leading Navy receiver with 38 catches for 615 yards. “For me I haven’t thought about it that way. I just want to get another win for my brothers. It doesn’t matter if we’re at three wins. It doesn’t matter if we’re at one win. I just want to get another game for my brothers.”