Volunteer State has been good to Mids
Beefed-up recruiting outreach in Tennessee has paid rich dividends over the years for Navy
D.J. Palmore played for a very strong football program at Christian Brothers High in Tennessee. The Catholic boys school is a perennial powerhouse in the greater Memphis area and annually produces numerous Division I prospects.
Palmore was named first-team All-State and was selected to play in the Liberty Bowl All-Star game as a senior. A tight end and defensive end at Christian Brothers, Palmore was recruited by hometown Memphis but was never offered a scholarship. He wound up choosing Navy just before National Signing Day after considering Air Force, Wofford and Tennessee-Martin.
Needless to say, Palmore will be motivated to play against Memphis on Saturday at NavyMarine Corps Memorial Stadium. Navy’s starting outside linebacker is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with former high school teammates and rivals.
“It does mean a lot for me. I played with and against a lot of the guys on the Memphis team in high school,” Palmore said. “It’s always fun to go against guys you know.”
Starting wide receiver Anthony Miller and holder Evan Michael are among the Memphis players who were teammates of Palmore’s at Christian Brothers. The Tigers also have numerous players on the roster from rival high schools such as Briarcrest Christian, St. Benedict and Memphis Catholic.
Navy strong safety Sean Williams also is from the Memphis area, having earned All-State honors and a Liberty Bowl All-Star selection, just like Palmore. Memphis also did not offer a scholarship to Williams, who committed to Navy over service academy rivals Air Force and Army West Point.
Palmore and Williams are among17 Navy players from the state of Tennessee. Other key contributors on this year’s team from the Volunteer State include starting defensive end Amos Mason (Brentwood Academy, Nashville), starting offensive tackle Andrew Wood (Friendship Christian, Mount Juliet), backup center Parker Wade (The Ensworth School, Nashville) and backup nose tackle Jackson Pittman (Brentwood Academy, Antioch).
Texas has long provided the most fertile recruiting territory for Navy. This year’s roster features 25 players from the state. California is tied with Tennessee for the second-highest representation, with 17 natives playing for the Midshipmen.
Assistant coach Ashley Ingram is primarily responsible for increasing Navy’s presence in Tennessee. He began recruiting in the state after joining the staff in 2008 and immediately landed Brentwood Academy standout Jabaree Tuani, who became one of the best defensive ends in program history.
Ingram has steadily expanded his reach within Tennessee and has signed a remarkable number of recruits from there over the past nine years.
“Ashley Ingram has changed our program with his recruiting in the state of Tennessee,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Players from that state have made a major impact in the success of our program. It’s really been a great state for Navy football.”
Speaking of recruiting, Niumatalolo took advantage of last week’s unexpected bye — caused by flooding near East Carolina — to send the entire staff on the road. Every assistant spent two days in his particular territory, with Steve Johns going out West while Danny O’Rourke and Mick Yokitis stopped in Texas.
When the Mids play road games, Niumatalolo will often send a couple of assistants a few days early to hit high schools in the area. That will certainly be the case when Navy travels to Tampa to face South Florida and to Dallas to play Southern Methodist. Saturday, 3:30 p.m. TV: CBS Sports Network Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Memphis by 21⁄ Smith decision due: Vice Adm. Walter “Ted” Carter, superintendent of the Naval Academy, is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to allow quarterback Tago Smith to pursue a fifth year of eligibility.
Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Fordham and thus qualifies for a medical redshirt year, based on NCAA rules. At a service academy, Safety Sean Williams is one of 17 players on the Navy roster this season from Tennessee, tied with California for the second-highest representation. Texas is first with 25. however, the administration determines whether a student-athlete is to be granted an extra semester.
Such decisions are based on academic and military progress, not on athletic considerations. Service academies rarely allow redshirt years, as students are generally expected to graduate with their class.
Nate Romine, the starting quarterback at Air Force this season, was allowed to withdraw from classes during the fall 2015 semester after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Romine said he received a “turnback” year because he had fallen behind academically.
Some Navy football players have been extended past their scheduled graduation date. Running back Napoleon McCallum is the most notable example; lesser-known players such as safety Jeff Delix have also been granted an extra year of eligibility.
Sources have told the Baltimore Sun Media Group that Navy’s athletic department is prepared to file the necessary paperwork with the NCAA to obtain an extra year of eligibility for Smith. The Georgia native spent three years backing up Keenan Reynolds. According to sources, Smith would like to return to the team in 2017, and his future rests with the superintendent.
Smith underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in early September and has been rehabilitating since. He was only recently cleared to begin walking on his own. Terrific Toneo: Senior slotback and offensive captain Toneo Gulley leads the slotback corps in rushing with 182 yards, averaging 9.1 yards per carry.
Gulley caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Will Worth in the win over Fordham and has been a reliable blocker. The 5-foot-8, 196-pound player also participates on special teams.
“I can’t say enough about Toneo. He is playing at an extremely high level right now,” Navy slotbacks coach Danny O’Rourke said. “Toneo is the most unselfish guy we’ve got, by far. He’s the reason a lot of the other slots are making nice runs. … He’s just doing a lot of good stuff for us.” Punter flip-flop: Senior Alex Barta has regained the starting punter job after being demoted two games into the season.
Barta was benched after shanking a punt against Connecticut. He was replaced by sophomore Erik Harris, who averaged 45.1 yards on10 punts. But Harris had a punt blocked against Air Force, and that apparently prompted Niumatalolo to go back to Barta.
“We wanted to rectify some protection issues and just felt like Barta gave us the best chance to do that,” Niumatalolo said. Promising plebe: Jonah Llanusa was the starting quarterback for the Naval Academy Prep School in 2015 and performed well, by all accounts. Unfortunately for Llanusa, he suffered a broken wrist during Plebe Summer and was sidelined throughout training camp.
It was feared that Llanusa would miss the entire season, but he recently had the cast removed and was cleared to resume football activities. The 6-1, 205-pound player from Choctaw, Okla., worked with the scout team in practice this week and was spotted throwing some nice downfield passes.
“I know he’s excited to be back,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s only been one week, but he’s been really good.”