Stukel Waiting For His Chance

Ever heard of a football player that was so good he never saw the field? Unless you pay particularly close attention to Navy football, you may not know the name Mike Stukel. Furthermore, you may not know which position the sophomore from Fleming Island, Florida plays for the Midshipmen. You also may not know how vital he, and players like him, are to the success of the Navy football team.

It has been a strange, sometimes frustrating ride so far for sophomore Mike Stukel because at various times of the season he has been listed on the depth chart as the first string slot back and as the second string quarterback. But ironically, because of injuries to other players, he has only played sparingly.

With two weeks to go before the season opener against Ohio State, Stukel was listed as the starting slot back because of an injury to Marcus Curry. Right around that time, however, then second string quarterback Kriss Proctor went down with a knee injury which created the need to bounce Stukel to back-up quarterback duty. He spent the next three weeks in that role ready to relieve junior Ricky Dobbs. Stukel made his debut on the field in Navy's second game, against Louisiana Tech, at quarterback in mop-up duty. He finished with 19 yards on three carries.

After seeing no action in the Pitt game, Proctor returned from his injury, thrusting Stukel back to slot back. However, he had to once again work his way up the depth chart because both Marcus Curry and senior Bobby Doyle were now starting. His first carry as a slot back was an impressive one and it came in Navy's fourth game, against Western Kentucky. He showed flashes of his speed with an impressive 14-yard carry. Stukel stayed at slot back for the next three games, getting only 4 carries in that span (all against Rice). However, another injury, this time to Dobbs in the SMU game, required Stukel to once again move back to quarterback – this time to serve as relief for fellow sophomore, Proctor.

It has been a trying time for a player who is one of the best athletes on the team, and whose versatility has literally kept him off the field.

Slotback coach Joe DuPaix empathized with Stukel's situation.

"He is such an athlete. He can run. He can throw. (And he) can do everything we ask him to do at (slot) back…and he came (to Navy) as a quarterback. So for him, I assume it would be a little bit frustrating not to be able to sit in at one position…and become great at that position," said DuPaix.

To be sure, Stukel is itching to play, but also appreciates his greater role to the team. "It's definitely frustrating because I would rather be on the field. But being at the Naval Academy it's kind of a different (atmosphere) where everybody is selfless and (you) do whatever you can do to help the other person out – and as long as we are winning – it's all good," said Stukel.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who has often mentioned the closeness of this particular team, was immediate in his response when asked about the importance of the role Stukel is playing for the Midshipmen.

"(Mike is) the ultimate team player. He has done what we have asked him to do and has not complained. Whatever we have asked him to do, he's done. Guys like Mike Stukel are why we are successful."

Indeed, Stukel's situation is nothing new to Navy. Just last year, senior Jarod Bryant spent time on the field at slot back and quarterback, and was listed on the depth chart in both. Add to that the fact that the quarterback gets hit on nearly every play in the Mids' triple option offense and one can see the need for some flexibility amongst your skill position athletes.

Certainly the selflessness and team unity that the triple option requires could have no better home than the United States Naval Academy for producing the kind of players need to fill such roles.

"The Academy lifestyle and the way its run and the way we run our offense goes so well hand in hand," said DuPaix.

Aside from the Academy influence, however, DuPaix, who played quarterback in the triple option in college, and now coaches Navy's slot backs, said flexibility is essential to its success wherever it is run.

"This offense has to have unselfish players. Whether it is the quarterback or the receivers or the A- back or the fullback…you have got to have unselfish players willing to do what is required of you to make the play work." It is a safe bet that Navy football fans will see Stukel on the field soon enough, and when they do, there is one common denominator coaches use to describe him: Speed.

At the quarterback position, Stukel, who runs a 4.5, 40-yard dash, considers himself a bit of a hybrid between Dobbs and Proctor.

"Kriss can deal it and run the option and check plays and Ricky is the physical guy. I guess I have to say I am kind of in between. I feel like if there is a crease I can be a home run threat," said Stukel.

Stukel said he would rather have the ball and thus might favor quarterback as a position of choice but said the slot back is also appealing.

"(At slot back) you just catch the pitch and go. (There is) less thinking and just (more) making plays," Stukel said with a smile. Niumatalolo believes that Stukel will be playing a big role at Navy throughout his career. "Mike's got a great future here," the second-year coach said.

For Mike Stukel, that future can't come soon enough. Top Stories