Entering only his junior year at the Academy, it's no wonder Middleton is already being projected as being one of the greatest safeties in Navy history, with the 6-foot, 192-pound defender figuring to play a critical role in Navy's defense again in 2009. I recently caught up with the Norcross, Georgia native, and got the scoop on his first two years in Annapolis and what his plans are for 2009 and beyond.
On his initial recruitment to Navy:
"Originally I played outside linebacker in high school. One of the main reasons that I came to the Naval Academy was because I wanted to go to a great football school and a great academic school…it is kind of hard to have two at the same time these days. The prestige of a school like the Academy is just amazing, and that was always what I was looking for. I felt like coach Bohananon did a great job in getting me to the Academy."
On what set Navy apart from other schools which recruited him:
"I was being recruited by a number of other schools. Navy had always been recruiting me since my junior year, but I kind of put them on the backburner because I really wasn't too high on the military component. But then I took a visit down here because I wanted to see what it would be like and it was like my eyes were opened…I could have went to Vanderbilt, Tulane, or a lot of other schools, but for some reason I just felt like I was at home at USNA. I don't know if a lot of people would say something like that, but I felt very welcomed when I came here, and they told me that I would see the field early. I really wanted to play, and not only did I want to play for a winning team or a winning school, but I wanted to be a part of a winning program. Navy was doing pretty well at the time so it caught my interest right there."
On his freshmen season in 2007:
"It was crazy. I felt very overwhelmed…from having to deal with 18 credit courses and college courses at the Academy, to having to be a freshman and the military training that comes with that; and then you add in football…football was just crazy. I had gone to NAPS and coach Johnson had told me to be ready to play and told me: ‘expect anything, because I see a lot of potential in you and we might need you to see the field early.' So, I kind of went into camp knowing that I was going to get on the field, but when I first got popped in their on national television during the Rutgers game it was an amazing feeling... I was nervous – I'm not going to lie – but at the same time I just sort of fell back and played. I tried to take it back to little league or take it back to junior high. That's how I did it; I blew a few assignments, but I just kept on playing."
On the struggles of 2007 and whether or not they helped the unit improve in 2008:
"I think it paid off a lot. Now I can say this, but I am kind of glad that we went through that year. Back then I would not have said it, but now – looking back on it and having been at the bottom of the bottom – we know how it feels. As a defensive back, when your pass defense isn't the strongest, it hurts. I think that is why our defense has been working so hard to improve, because we know what it is like to have been down at the bottom and we don't want that to happen again. We know what to do now and what not to do. So I think that year helped us out a lot and I know it helped coach Green out a lot. I know he tried a lot of different things last year that worked really well, and those were things that we didn't try the previous year."
On defensive coordinator Buddy Green:
"Coach Green is a great coach…the coaches at the Naval Academy are great coaches. At this school, it is hard to recruit a great athlete because most great athletes coming out of high school don't want to serve in the military and most of them don't really have the grades to get into the Academy anyway. I think one of the reasons the Academy football team is so good is because of our coaches. We just have great coaches. All of the coaches, they have all been there and they know a lot about the game of football. Of course we have some great athletes too, but personally I can say that coach Green has helped me out a lot. I've been on the field and coach Green will call a defense and the offense will come out at the last minute and check, so he'll check to another defense and we'll get a "pick six" or an interception just like that…so coach knows the game."
On a "turning point" game in his freshmen season:
"I would say that definitely the Notre Dame game was a turning point for me, but I also felt personally that the Pittsburgh game and Delaware games were turning points for me. When I did not play as well as I should of that was my first turning point and I noticed that ‘this is what I have to do to be a good leader on the team' or ‘this is what I need to do to make plays.' The Notre Dame game, I would say that was a turning point for everybody because all that week we talked about believing that we could beat Notre Dame and we all finally believed in ourselves and believed in the coaches and we beat Notre Dame that year."
"I take a lot of pride in tackling. I mean I'm on defense, so to me a missed tackle is like a fumble if I was a running back. That's how I look at it. Not only that but in high school I played outside linebacker so I've always been used to going downhill and getting my nose into the ball and the ballcarrier…so I take a lot of pride in tackling. The coaches…coach Green, coach Speed, they all work us out. We have a tackling circuit that we do everyday during practice, but I also have to give a lot of credit to my older brother who helped me out with my open field tackling. He plays for the Falcons right now, so he's helped me out a lot.
On the role of his siblings in his development both on and off-the-field:
"Not only was my sister an Academic All-American, but she was an All-American in softball too. To me, that's just a dream come true and a great example…that somebody could still perform at the highest level both academically and athletically. She played professionally, too. Following in the footsteps of her and my brother – who now plays in the NFL - those are some big footsteps to follow but I'm glad I have them as my role models. That way I can also be a role model for my younger sister, who is going to play basketball at Belmont Abbey. I'm glad that I've had my siblings to support me and help me out."
His impressions of the younger defensive backs:
"With them learning their roles, I don't think it's a matter of having difficulty…they see how we play, and they see how the depth chart is right now and they see the starting four. We've all done very well for ourselves, and it's almost like the four of us [starters] are brothers. That's how I act with all the other defensive backs...I try to take them under my wings like they are my brothers, and I try to tell them things that I would do, and I try to tell them things not to do. But at the same time I understand that I'm still constantly learning too. I try to get the younger guys ready because I know I'm not ‘younger' anymore. Guys before me – Rashawn [King], Jeff [Deliz] – I mean they got me ready so I try to take the same approach to our younger guys now. Coach Green will throw anyone in a game if he has to, so I feel like we are all a pretty tight knit group."
On the differences between playing rover and free safety, and which position he will play in 2008:
"The responsibilities are different, but the positions are pretty much the same, depending on what the call is. The rover is more like an extra linebacker though, and he needs to be able to come down and stick his nose in there but at the same time cover. Now, with free safety on our team, that's more a guy who plays ‘deep middle.' But at times he will have to come down and play the run…it all depends on the call. They are basically the same position but the responsibilities are different at different times. I've been moving around back and forth this spring. My freshmen year I played both positions, and during the first few games last year I played free safety then I played rover…but this year I am starting out at rover. Either way I am ready to play both positions."