Home or Away, It's All Academics for Mids- 1

It's a few days before the final game of the year and the Navy football team is in San Diego. Yet, head coach Ken Niumatalolo still can't get all of his players on the practice field. That's because a lot of them are secluded in a conference room taking final exams. The academic rigors of being a midshipman follow these players everywhere - even for the biggest nerd on the team.

Typically midshipmen will say anytime they can get away from the campus, or ‘the yard,' is usually a good deal. Leaving classrooms and military formations behind for any other setting, especially a division one football game, is time midshipmen almost always cherish. But as much as midshipmen like starting right guard John Dowd appreciate getting away from Annapolis, there was a time when staying behind during a road trip was actually a relief.

"My plebe year I didn't travel at all which was actually pretty nice because I had some time to hang out…and study," admitted Dowd.

There has been much written about Dowd and his academic accolades and rightfully so. The senior is currently carrying a 3.91 GPA as a mechanical engineering major which as majors go is as tough as it gets in Annapolis according to Kevin Haney, a distinguished professor and faculty representative for the team.

"He is a rock star," said Haney, who pointed out that Dowd's current courses load include Solid Mechanics, Engineering Design, and Heat Transfer.

"He's taking at least 18 credits in tough classes during football season," said Haney. "It's a brutal schedule."

It's a schedule like that which makes Dowd miss having a break from road trips like the one the Mids will take this week to Columbia when they will play the 11th ranked Gamecocks. However, Academy officials are very familiar with the demands placed on midshipmen and it has resulted in extremely regimented road trips with plenty of academic support available for the players.

According to the team's military officer representative, Marine Corps Col. John Kennedy, Navy brings much more than footballs and shoulder pads on road trips.

"Usually we will bring along a math or chemistry tutor in addition to either a physics or electrical engineering professor…some of the courses that are typically more difficult for the students," explained Kennedy. "As we get closer to six and twelve week exams, we may try and increase that…it's kind of hard because seats are limited on the airplane."

Six week and twelve week exams are legendary at the Academy for being the roughest academic weeks of the semester. A lot of privileges like leave and liberty are tied into a midshipman's grades at these key junctures in the academic calendar, so failing an early exam could have significant consequences.

Add to that pressure the fact that six week exams always seem to fall on the five days leading up to a huge rivalry game and it can get a bit overwhelming.

"During six week and twelve week exams – the amount of time you have to put in just gets amplified more. It seems like six week exams always falls on Air Force week. I'd like them to do something about that," Dowd joked. "It just wears you down if you take three hours of tests, then go to practice, then study again for the next day after practice. It really just grinds you down."

Although NCAA eligibility does not hinder on six or twelve week grades – it is based on end of the semester GPAs – Academy officials look at them very closely to gauge how well players are adapting to the requirements in Annapolis.

"Six and twelve week grades are immaterial to the NCAA but obviously it's material to us," said Haney. "If you are, for example, our starting quarterback, and you are failing two classes (at six weeks)…we are going to intervene and we are going to intervene quickly. I'll typically call their professors first…and we will come up with a strategy for them to succeed," he continued.

And it's not just the faculty representative that gets involved. If a player is struggling, both Haney and Kennedy get the ear of the coaching staff immediately.v "I'll go through and read all the Midshipmen Academic Progress Report (MAPRs) – it summarizes the student's grades, effort, what he is struggling in and what he needs to do to get better," said Kennedy. "I pull out the highlights – both good and bad – and send it over to (Coach Niumatalolo)."

"I go to practice every day and casually talk to coaches. They always come up and ask how their players are doing," noted Haney. "I've also tried to establish myself here as the faculty rep (and that has led to) some professors reaching out to me to tell me that they are concerned about a player. We try to get things fixed pretty quickly."

Haney credited Coach Niumatalolo for being "all in" when it comes to monitoring the academic progress of his players, but one student nobody has to worry about is Dowd.

When asked how many B's he received so far in his three years at the Academy, not only did Dowd quickly know the answer (which was 3), he also rapidly sounded off the only classes he didn't receive an "A" in. For those who like me were curious, here they are: Plebe Seamanship, Strength and Materials, and Second-Class Leadership. Two of those classes actually took place in the spring semester which means Dowd has only received one ‘B' during football season.

But even being a self-proclaimed "nerd" at the Naval Academy comes with a downside.

"I think they called me 4.0 for a little bit…that wasn't really a nice nickname. That was more for when I jumped off-sides…which I have a tendency to do. (They would say) how could you be doing that 4.0? You should know that one means one and two means two," said Dowd.

"I try to explain it by…I like to think that I am on such an edge before each play that sometimes I just can't control it," he joked.

Outside of his dorm room in Bancroft Hall, Dowd said that the best opportunity for him to study is on the airplane ride to an away game.

"If we have a three hour flight to some place like Dallas, I'll take a quick hour nap and then wake up and try to hit the books. I remember having to make-up a material science exam the Monday after traveling to Air Force. It got really intense from a studying standpoint on the plane. I didn't have any time to waste," said Dowd.

Dowd said that it is typical for the staff to set up the seating chart on the plane to ensure students who really need help are sitting next to professors who travel with the team.

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