Emotions will be high before the game as the 35 seniors are honored. In the past, I thought this ceremony deflated teams since some of the players have to wait on the field for so long. Especially if it's cold and windy.
I thought the 2001 game against Tulane had a real nice pregame ceremony, but Navy came out extremely flat afterward. Interim coach Rick Lantz said he noticed it, too. He said he would change the way the senior day ceremony was held if he were named permanent coach. (Though he may have done a fine job as head coach given the chance, I know most Navy fans are not complaining about the choice Chet Gladchuk made instead.)
Saturday, though, should be different. Not just because this senior class has had so much success and has really, really given Navy fans and the academy a great ride.
Seeing Brian Hampton take the field one more time will almost certainly give the team--and the crowd--quite a lift. Going out on a stretcher was no way for him to make his final appearance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Also, the senior class has had so many selfless contributors. Read Friday's papers--the stories are about Anthony Piccioni, Cole Smith and the two 12th Mids. Needless to say, the group has a combined zero career starts among them.
With Rossi's injury, Smith may get the nod against Temple, and it will be worth watching. He has waited his turn. It could not have been easy; Smith was a two-year starter at De La Salle, one of the top high school programs in the nation. He started both ways as a senior. He and Navy teammate John Chan were two of the three captains when they were seniors.
At Navy, Smith watched Rossi get the starting nod for two years. Watched as Rossi was named captain. Well, Smith must be a good player--how else to explain the role he played at DLS, a role that is rather pointedly made clear in the book "Where the Game Stands Tall," by Neil Hayes, who followed the DLS team in 2002.
I would think he would get a chance on Saturday given that Rossi practiced sparingly on Wednesday. Sentiment won't factor into the coaches' decision, but I would like to see what Smith can do. The core of any option offense is the center, quarterback and fullback. Temple, for all its problems, has a very good defensive line and is well-coached. It will be a good matchup.
Watch as well what the Owls do with their deep safety. I imagine they will come out in an eight-man front. If the deep safety plays the pass, the center-QB-fullback core will be even more important, because Navy will want to run up the middle. A few quick-hitters would get Ballard or Kettani (or Hall) past the line and into the second level, where they have a size advantage on all three of Temple's starting linebackers (none weighs more than 225).
If the weather is bad or the passing game isn't working, watch for the "heavy" formation, i.e. the unbalanced line. Navy used it a lot in the 1997 game against Temple, when heavy rain and wind made passing difficult. Navy won, 49-17.
No matter where you are reading this or where you'll be at gametime, please spare a thought for the senior class and the work they have done. Remember, when they were being recruited by Navy or at NAPS, the Mids had a very poor program. That is no longer the case.