Navy's Tim Tebow?

Ross Pospisil should have every right to talk about his on-field accomplishments. After all, the six-foot, 223-pound inside linebacker has been a fixture on Navy's defense for the past two seasons, finishing off the 2008 campaign with a team high 106 total tackles and 64 solo stops.

During his sophomore year in 2007 he notched an almost unheard of 20 tackles against Northern Illinois, while he has also broken up five passes and forced four fumbles in only seventeen starts during his career. And how could anyone forget Pospisil stripping Temple running back Kee-ayre Griffin of the football in the waning moments of regulation during a rainy Annapolis evening last November? The iconic play, which led directly to a 42-yard touchdown return by fellow linebacker Clint Sovie, sent the game into overtime and an eventual Navy victory, completing a comeback which some credit with saving Navy's 2008 season.

With a resume like that, you'd think Pospisil would be in a hurry to talk about the next great thing which awaits him on the field. But to make that assumption would be to overlook the humility of one of Navy's best linebackers in recent memory, and abandon any hope in the idea of the student athlete who wants nothing more than to help his team in whatever capacity he can.

Don't believe me? I don't necessarily blame you. After all, we live in a college sports landscape dominated by headlines of DUI arrests, academic impropriety, and the ever increasing "it's all about me" attitude that has long since corrupted the ranks of professional sports. With a 24/7 sports ticker that constantly keeps us updated on the latest scandal or arrest, it's no wonder that even the most open-minded of college sports fans tend to question the intentions of the few "too-good-to-be-true" student athletes we have.

Yet in the case of Ross Pospisil what you see is what you get, and in the case of Ross Pospisil what you see is a player who believes firmly in the values of teamwork, leadership, and humility both on and off the field. Case in point, the attitude of Pospisil after a recent practice session, where despite making several big plays the inside linebacker still felt it necessary to point out the need for his own improvement.

"I've been frustrated a good bit with my personal play," said the senior-to-be when I asked him about the first two weeks of spring practice. "I'm still making some rookie mistakes even though I'm coming off of my third year playing. That's what's really been kind of frustrating…There are some things that could be fixed and we see it as a defense every year, getting their mentally…To play at this level you've got to be mentality tuned in and come ready to play."

Needless to say, Pospisil's comments certainly surprised me. Here was the guy who picked off Riley Skinner is Navy's upset win at Wake Forest a year ago, and who finished with double digit tackle totals in each of Navy's final three games of 2008. And that's not even counting his performance this spring, which by every account has been exceptional. I mean, how can a player not be more tuned in mentally? Thinking the modest Pospisil was being just that, I asked Ross what he meant by his comments about making mistakes, and whether or not he could point to any specifics. Not only did he reference a particular play, but he went on to take full responsibility for the defensive breakdown that I hadn't even noticed occurred.

"It's just little fundamental things, like little breakdowns where we'll have a good play - you know like blow something up - but then the fullback will cut it up the A-gap for 20-yards just because [I was] out of my gap, not playing fast enough or physical enough to get into my gap. It's things like that which are the most frustrating because you know as a player…I mean when I'm watching film all by myself I know what I did wrong…It's really the little things across the board, especially against our offense."

If Pospisil's attitude comes across as overly modest perhaps it should come as no surprise. The son a pastor, the soft spoken Pospisil has always been quick to credit the role of his faith in shaping his athletic achievements. It's an attitude which has drawn comparisons to another "nice guy" college football player in Florida's Tim Tebow, who like Pospisil has been particularly hard on himself when his team has underperformed in the past. Still, it's not just Ross being Ross when it comes to expecting more from himself, as even position coach Steve Johns told me that despite their consistency and obvious talent, he still sees room for improvement from both Pospisil and fellow linebacker Tony Haberer.

"[Ross and Tony] still have to play better...They haven't arrived by any stretch of the imagination, but what they have been able to master they've taken and done a great job of trying to help the other guys get better."

That leadership role which both Pospisil and Haberer have taken on this spring has been more than apparent. When I spoke to Navy backup linebackers Max Blue and Caleb King both had nothing but positives to say about the rising senior Pospisil, who Caleb King referred to as a "great leader" and "great guy all around." It's nothing new to the ears of Navy fans, who have come to associate Pospisil with the sterling image of a Midshipmen football player. In fact, ask anyone familiar with the program about Pospisil and after they tell you about how clutch he's been for Navy over the past two seasons they almost inevitably throw in a "oh yea, helluva nice guy too."

Character accolades notwithstanding, Pospisil has every reason to look forward to 2009. Returning along with seven other starters from last year's defense, the reigning First Team All-Independent linebacker should be poised for his most dominating season yet. Knowing that he could find himself on several preseason "watch lists" for individual accolades and honors, I finished our conversation by asking Ross what his personal goals for the season were, foolishly thinking I could elicit a response of "beating Ohio State in Columbus" or "leading the team in total tackles." Without missing a beat Pospisil summed it up for me, perhaps in the way only a Navy football player could.

"I want to first and foremost lead by example but at the same time work on just keep encouraging guys to do their best and foster the brotherhood, which our team is all about," said Pospisil, referencing the familiar theme that so many Navy players speak highly of. "I hope and pray our team will be a team about each other, and I think that will be the thing that lasts above all else."

Too good to be true? For the cynic perhaps, but in game in which the Tim Tebow's and Myron Rolle's of the world still find their way to success every now and again, I'm more than happy to give Navy's man in the middle the benefit of the doubt.

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