Mids Give New Meaning to 'Off-Season'

Ever wonder what college football players do in the off-season once spring practice and classes are completed? Some motivated athletes probably stay on campus for a few weeks to take some courses and to workout voluntarily with teammates; while others probably spend a few weeks at home or on vacation with their families and friends.

Some really motivated college football players, like Jonathan Alvarado decided to spend their off-season doing something a little different.  Alvarado helped call in air strikes from fighter jets and warships alongside U.S. Marines during a week of duty in Camp Lejuene, North Carolina.  Of course, Alvarado's team uniform had something to do with his summer plans.  The senior linebacker plays for Navy and unlike most Division I-A football players, the phrase ‘off-season' has a completely different meaning for him and his teammates.


For most Navy football players, the off-season begins in early May once final exams are completed.  The vast majority of the team will then scatter across the globe to take part in training missions that give them a taste of what lies ahead once they graduate.  In Alvarado's case that meant getting to spend some time with a U.S. Marine Corps artillery battalion.


"We went through the gas chamber, the pistol range, and we were calling in air strikes from F/A-18's.  I was even able to call in some naval gun support from a cruiser off the coast – that was a blast.  It really solidified my choice to opt for the Marine Corps."


Getting to experience life in the Navy and Marine Corps during the summer is not an opportunity only open to seniors like Alvarado.  Sophomore safety Jesse Iwuji, who had just completed his plebe year, found himself crossing the Atlantic Ocean onboard a naval destroyer, the USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75). 


Iwuji, who will battle with classmate Blake Carter for the starting rover position, was able to take part in damage control exercises, shoot some of the ship's massive guns, and learn more about the jobs enlisted Sailors play on the destroyer.  Iwuji also tried to workout in between drills.


"It was a little rough.  The gym was at the bow (front) of the ship and that's where it rocked the most."


Much like Alvarado, the experience may have had an impact on the Carrollton, Texas native's post-graduation assignment.


"At first I wanted to be on a big carrier, but after being on a destroyer for two weeks I can see myself doing that when I graduate," said Iwuji.


Another training opportunity for Naval Academy midshipmen is to indoctrinate freshman (or plebes) into the rigors of the military culture.


Due to his impressive credentials, including a 3.14 GPA in Aerospace Engineering, senior slot back Zerbin Singleton was selected to be the regimental executive officer for this process known as plebe summer.  In this role as the second highest-ranking midshipmen, the Decatur, Georgia native was in charge of making sure his classmates, not the plebes, were doing their jobs.


"The biggest part of this training experience has been peer leadership," said Singleton.  "I've (also) done a lot of administrative work while making sure the cadre is doing what they are supposed to."


Although his job kept him away from the day-to-day training of the plebes, Singleton always had a seat reserved for some misbehaving freshman at his meal table.


"We had one plebe come to our tables for doing cartwheels in the hall," recalled Singleton.  "That meal wasn't a lot of fun for him." 


"It is great to have varsity athletes on plebe detail," said Marine Lt. Col. Robert Benson, Office in Charge of the Fourth-Class Regiment. "It's nice to be able to have someone of Zerb Singleton's caliber and background who is excelling in all areas of the Naval Academy to counsel and mentor plebes…and to help get them back on track if needed."


After graduating next spring, Singleton plans to join the officer ranks of the U.S. Marine Corps, which according to Benson, would be a welcome addition.


"I would take him today."  He has the heart, desire and skills to be a Marine officer and he is only going to get better over the course of his (senior) year."


Most Navy football players do get an opportunity to take about two weeks of leave during the summer to visit family and friends.  But for Ben Gabbard, a 6'4", 300-pound offensive lineman, part of his scheduled leave was spent helping others.


Gabbard, who is slated to start at right guard for the Mids rushing juggernaut, left Annapolis with members of his church on June 17 en route to the Gulf Coast region.  And for the next seven days, he built walls and helped to install electrical outlets in a Gulfport, Mississippi man's shell of a home.


"I've wanted to go down there ever since (Hurricane Katrina) happened, but either football, summer school or my schedule didn't match up.  This was the first time I had time off and there was a group going.  I jumped at it as soon as I found out about it," said Gabbard. 


According to Gabbard, he never met the man who owned the three-bedroom ranch he was helping to fix. 


"His house was two blocks from the Gulf and he didn't want to go within 10 miles of it.  He couldn't stand to walk around and see that everything was gone.  It was too much for him to take."


Gabbard continued, "When we got there you could see from one end of the house to the other – there were no walls anywhere.  And when we left, all of the walls and the ceilings and light switches were in place.  All that was left to do was put doors in."


Mr. Scott Herwig, the coordinator for Chesapeake Presbyterian's Disaster Response Team, said that Gabbard's size and strength came in very handy on the job site.


"He was a big guy and he was able to hold up sheetrock real well.  Instead of having to use a (mechanical) lift, we used ‘Big Ben'."


"Once the (homeowner) finds out that a Naval Academy football player was down there to help, I think he will become an avid fan of Navy football," said Herwig.


Before heading to the Gulf Coast, Gabbard was able to take part in his summer military training just like his teammates.


For the Arnold, Maryland native, this meant spending16 days in Norfolk with Helicopter Squadron HSC-28.


"I flew two or three times.  I sat in the front seat like another pilot.  I got to fly around a little bit, take-off, land.  It was a lot of fun."


Gabbard compared his piloting debut to the gridiron. 


"It was like playing in Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.  (It's like) I can't believe I'm here but I'm also really pumped up to be playing.  It's a whole range of emotions hitting you at once."


"I didn't know whether or not I was going to stay in (the Navy) or just get out after five years, but I can see myself flying helicopters for a long time.  It really opened my eyes to making it a career, continued Gabbard."







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