FORT WORTH, Texas – Beat Army. It’s a rallying cry for the U.S. Naval Academy, which recently continued its dominance in the century-plus-old rivalry by securing its 12th straight win over the Black Knights.
However, that’s just one of the goals set forth by the Navy football program and its sixth-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
“We’re not Alabama or LSU or anybody,” Niumatalolo said. “We know who we are. Our goals are pretty simple. Go to a bowl game and win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. There are only three (football) teams that have the chance to go to the White House – the national champion collegiate football team, the NFL Super Bowl champion and the winner of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.”
A trip to visit with the president at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has become a common occurrence for the Midshipmen, who have won nine of the past 11 trophies, dating back to 2003 by consistently out dueling Army and Air Force. It’s quite a remarkable feat for a program that went 3-30 from 2000 through 2002.
And while Niumatalolo may say that the Midshipmen aren’t Alabama or LSU, they do have something in common with those high-profile schools. All three are included on a list of just 17 schools in the nation to have reached at least 10 bowl games in the past 11 years.
In addition to Navy, Alabama and LSU, that select group comprises Boise State, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Texas, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.
This year’s 8-4 Navy team will face MTSU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Monday.
Niumatalolo said he isn’t worried about whether his team will be motivated for the postseason game, which comes on the heels of an emotional 34-7 shellacking of arch rival Army.
“I’m overpaid as a coach,” Niumatalolo said. “These are highly motivated kids at the U.S. Naval Academy. They recognize that their opportunities to put on the helmet comes to an end, and this is the last time for our seniors, so we feel very, very honored and humbled to come to this bowl game and play Middle Tennessee.”
And while bowl appearances have been frequent, bowl victories have not come as easily.
Navy last won a bowl game in 2009 and is 7-10-1 all time.
Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 48-30 record in his six seasons as head coach and already stands third all-time at Navy in career wins. That’s an impressive achievement considering the depth of history at the school, which won a national championship in 1926 and boasts a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach.
Part of the reason for the their success over the past decade has been due to the coaching staff, which sees very little turnover year after year.
Prior to taking over the program, Niumatalolo spent 10 years as an assistant at the academy. But the head coach is quick to point to his players as the true reason for the team’s strong run.
“We coach great young men,” he said. “We feel like the greatest young men in the country.”
Senior linebacker DJ Sargenti is one of those young men. He is on a path to becoming a U.S. Marine Corps officer following his May graduation and said the reason for the team’s success is just as simple as its goals.
“It’s a testament to the school in general and to the football program,” he said. “It’s the standard that they hold you to. They don’t settle for anything less than excellence.”