Vol­un­teer State has been good to Mids

Beefed-up re­cruit­ing out­reach in Ten­nessee has paid rich div­i­dends over the years for Navy

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner

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.”

JOSHUA MCKERROW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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