Easy to see Sugar’s love of the Sweet Science
Some years ago, Kids in Trouble, the District-based charitable organization founded by sportscaster Harold Bell, presented Lifetime Achievement trophies to boxing writer Bert Randolph Sugar and yours truly. I don’t remember what I said at the awards dinner and neither does anyone else, because Sugar stole the show. As usual.
Waving a cigar and wearing a fedora, both trademarks of his, Sugar regaled his audience with tales of the days when boxing was a real sport instead of a charade. When this native Washingtonian died last weekend of a heart attack and lung cancer at 75, he had outlived his sport by a generation or so — or since the heyday of another local Sugar baby, Ray Leonard.
In his lifetime, Bert tapped out dozens of books and articles on boxing, most of them interesting if you cared about the sport. With his outgoing personality and often outrageous pronouncements, he was as much a character as the people he wrote about.
I can relate to Sugar’s love for this seamy sport. When I was a young writer who thought he knew it all, I covered boxing for the late and lamented Washington Star. The first thing I learned was not to believe anything anybody tells you. The second thing was to deal with the fighters themselves rather than the promoters and managers who tried to rob them blind.
Most of the boxers came out of the inner city, were educated minimally if at all and responded to a writer who was genuinely interested in them. I never heard anybody say he liked fighting. Those guys did it because they had no better way to earn a living, meager though it might be.
Some of them even had a sense of humor. Once I wrote that a fancy local boxer named Herbie Lee Dolloson “hit with all the force of a spring shower.” The next time our paths crossed, he had his one-liners (if not his fists) at the ready.
“Hey, pal,” said Herbie Lee, affecting a menacing scowl. “Want me to show you what a spring shower feels like?” Oops. Local light-heavyweight Bob Foster
ing as Kriss Proctor’s backup and will be around the rest of Cummings’ career. Another group of quarterbacks already has spent a fall in the Mids’ system in the class behind Cummings.
All of which made it sensible for Cummings, who played in two games last season, to make a switch.
“You want to give a kid a full spring and a full fall to get a chance to show what he can do,” Jasper said. “Sometimes, if the guys are in the same class — and I didn’t see him beating Trey out and that’s the reason I talked to him. I said ‘Hey, you’re probably not going to beat Trey out. Do you want to sit behind Trey or do you want to go someplace where you can play?’ “
That doesn’t always make it the most welcome news. Leadership, often overstated beyond the point of cliche in sports, is a fact of life at the academy. No position on the field is imbued with as much of the quality as quarterback.
Nonetheless, former quarterbacks still can thrive for the Mids. Jeremy McGown is one of the best examples, enjoying a strong career as a defensive back in the middle of the last decade. More recently, Jarod Bryant was used as a slotback as a senior in 2008, and Mike Stukel emerged as a useful slotback last season after beginning his career as a quarterback.
That knowledge, coupled with the opportunity to play at a position where Navy remains inexperienced, bolstered Cummings.
“As soon I got done with the meeting, I took it in full-heartedly and said I was dedicating myself to this position,” Cummings said. “There’s no point moping around and saying ‘They changed me from quarterback.’ Just take the new position and learn it as fast as I can.”
The man delivering position-change news to quarterbacks knows what it’s like to be on the other end of the conversation. Jasper was a quarterback and then a slotback at Hawaii in the early 1990s, and Cummings was far from the first player he’s told will be on the move.
It’s probably not the last time Jasper will have such a talk. But he said something that helps is players are apprised of the possibility of changing positions during the recruitment process and again after each season. After all, only one quarterback can play at a time.
“It’s something I have personal experience with and I was fine with,” Jasper said. “The main thing is always be up front with kids and let them know. Then you should be OK. I know it’s tough. At the same time, if the guy in front of you is better than you, what are you going to do?”
Cummings, like many before him, opted to embrace the change. He played some defense in high school, usually as a safety who could roll down and play outside linebacker. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, he looks physical enough to handle himself on defense.
“We’re really excited about him,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He’s done some good things at outside linebacker. He’s made a smooth transition, but I’ve been excited just by his attitude. He’s not sulking. He doesn’t have his head down. He’s been a team player.”
Cummings is third on the depth chart at one of the outside linebacker slots, behind a pair of sophomores. And while he acknowledges he still has a long way to go, he intends to use the spring as a chance to pick up as much as possible and learn how to recognize offensive tendencies from a much different angle.
There is, after all, life after quarterback.
“As a quarterback, you’re a leader,” Cummings said. “I’m coming to outside linebacker, and I’m going to try to be a leader there. I know the Sam linebacker and the safeties are the guys making the calls, but you can use leadership anywhere on the field.”
Jarvis Cummings’ decision was easy when given a choice between playing at outside linebacker for Navy or sitting behind quarterback Trey Miller.