What a night at Alumni Hall! It was sold out as Chet announced over 1,200 people in attendance. Our table was on the upper deck, overlooking the tables on the court. Unfortunately, it was too far to use the camera, although I had a chance to talk to a few players before dinner. Aaron Polanco was really poised and I took the attached picture before dinner. Trey Hines was another really impressive young man I enjoyed talking with. All the award winners are listed on the web site, so I won't repeat the winners here. I thought I might summarize a few comments/bright spots made by some of the speakers.
- During Bowl Games this year, Navy was 7th in bowl attendance out of 56 teams. We really showed everyone how we support our team. (Does Navy have a national following or what?)
- Next year a Ron Winchester Award will be established for the senior who is the best overachiever. Ron's parents were in attendance and receive a huge standing ovation. It was really an emotional moment.
- The four finalists for the Bobby Dodd coach of the year came from Auburn, Oklahoma, and USC. Pretty good company for our coach. Way to go PJ!
- Everyone told him he was committing professional suicide by coaching here because one could not win at Navy. He said the first year of 2-10 brought everything into focus and laid the foundation for winning. The players fully bought into the system. He said this year was great and talked about the Vandy game as a turning point when they were really struggling, but the Brigade really got into the game and caused a couple of delay of game penalties against Vandy. That caught the team on fire. It continued through the Emerald Bowl, where we had such a huge showing of fan support.
- He said next year was going to be tough with our schedule, but mentioned the Touchdown Club three years ago. He was talking to Ralph Friedgen of Maryland at that time, and Navy had not won a game, and Maryland had just played in the Orange bowl. Ralph mentioned how Maryland and Navy should play each other, and Paul said he would be crazy to want to play Maryland. PJ talked to Ralph this year at the Touchdown club (a couple of days ago) and Ralph asked him if he remembered the conversation three years ago? Ralph said Maryland only won five games this year, and he would be crazy to want to play a team that won 10 games. PJ said it is amazing how fast things can change in football.
Some of his best quips when he commented upon the seniors individually:
· Kyle Eckel was one of his favorite players in the locker room. He said if someone was having an argument, Kyle had to come along and always get his two cents in. He said Kyle led the team in rushing and demerits.
· He said Geoff Blumenfeld was FDB's favorite Navy player.
· Lane Jackson was one of the most intense players he has ever been around. Lane made many big plays for Navy.
· Bobby McClarin - another really tough guy who liked to argue with everyone in the locker room.
· Aaron Polanco was probably the toughest guy he had seen… last spring practice he took so many hard shots and just came back for more. He said he knew then that AP was really a leader and a tough guy.
· He talked about Josh and Aaron's leadership, and how valuable it was for the team.
· He talked about Eric Roberts and what a great player he was. He was Navy's go-to guy.
· He talked about Jeff Vanak who, at 230-240 pounds, pushed around 300 pound linemen. He was impressive and was an overachiever.
· He said Dustin Elliot played through a lot of injuries each year, but always contributed to the team. A real team player. He also said this about several other players.
· He said Babatunde Akingbemi really stepped up and had a heck of a year for Navy with many big plays. The big man got a huge round of applause.
The highlight film was absolutely awesome, and included most of the great catches and runs. They had highlights of each game, and went through the schedule. The Bowl Game was particularly well done and focused on "the drive". Music was great. Almost up to Phat's standards.
The underclassmen have big shoes to fill, but judging from their physical size last night, we will have some big boys out there on the line. PJ said they were really working hard in the weight room, (which is an excellent indicator in my book). Everyone had a great evening as the whole team was there and alumni were thanking the players for such a great season.
Let's get ready for Maryland!