Carrying on the Line

For most hardcore Navy fans, the highlight videos of Clear Lake (TX) High School fullback Jarred Mack sprinting through opposing defenses were an awe-inspiring sight. So when Mack committed to the Academy in the winter of 2009, Midshipmen fans had reason to celebrate. Lost amongst those highlights, however, was one overlooked point; Clear Lake's offensive line.

It's easy to get caught up in the scouting and recruiting hype that surrounds skill position players like Mack, who has since gone on to play on Navy's junior varsity team. Yet for every brilliant fullback dive play he took to the house for Clear Lake in 2007 and 2008, there were five seemingly anonymous offensive linemen who paved the way. One of those linemen was Nathan Otto, who two weeks ago gave his verbal pledge to play football at the United States Naval Academy. At 6-foot-2, 265-pounds, Otto may be undersized by right tackle standards for most FBS Division I teams, but his sub five second 40-yard dash speed and explosive strength (345 bench, 435 squat) make him an ideal athlete to play in Navy's triple option attack.

The transition into Navy's option offense shouldn't be too difficult for Otto, who comes from a nearly identical flexbone-based scheme at Clear Lake.

"Since I've been in this system for four years at Clear Lake, I think the knowledge will carry over pretty well for what my assignments will end up being," said Otto, who was named Clear Lake's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in 2009.

"I know I'm not going to be dropping back into pass protection pretty often, because it's pretty smash-mouth football policy with the triple option," he added. "I think it's awesome and it's perfect for my height and size, which is really cool. So just the knowledge of what the offense will be like and having been in the system for a few years should definitely help me in the long run."

Otto first came to the attention of the Navy coaching staff during the recruitment of former Clear Lake Falcon fullback and current Midshipmen Jarred Mack. Navy assistant Danny O'Rourke, who recruits the state of Texas for Navy, handled Mack's recruitment in the winter of 2008-2009, and was similarly drawn to the play of Clear Lake's right tackle. O'Rourke couldn't help but admire the swift release of the player off the line, who seemed to execute textbook-like cut blocks on opposing linebackers with ease. And while Navy fans watching online highlight films would marvel at Mack's speed and ability in the open field, O'Rourke was already starting to recruit the player who made it possible for Mack to get to that level.

Navy began to seriously recruit Otto through the summer prior to his junior year, although other universities showed interest as well. The University of Houston was first on the scene, although, according to Otto, that interest cooled off when the Cougar staff judged him to be "too short." Army contacted Otto as well, but that didn't occur until late in the recruiting process, when the 6-foot-2 tackle had already narrowed down his list of potential destinations to two schools. The other school competing for Otto's services? The United States Air Force Academy.

"I had been talking to Navy for almost a year, and keeping in contact with coach O'Rourke," Otto explained. "Actually the day I had planned on committing to Navy, coach [Troy] Calhoun came to my school and offered me a scholarship. That was a big decision to make, and I prayed about it and flirted with that idea."

The difficulty of the decision was compounded by the fact that Otto already had a connection to the Air Force Academy, where his sister is currently a junior. Despite having only positives to say about his sister's experience at Air Force, however, Otto's said that Colorado Springs just wasn't a place that felt like it "could be home for the next four plus years of my life."

Having heard nothing but good things about Navy from current Midshipmen and former Clear Lake players Patrick Snow and Jarred Mack, Otto cited several reasons why Navy was just "the better fit" for him, including referencing Navy's active presence in the state of Texas.

"Just knowing those guys, and knowing the coaches, I just felt like it was an awesome fit," said Otto. "The whole Texas thing, it's cool. My friend Jarred Mack wasn't on the travel squad for most of the season but [the Navy coaches] did bring him down here for the Texas Bowl, so he got to hang out with his family and stuff. I thought that was really classy of them. Just that aspect was really cool, and also 10 wins this last season was really awesome. Seven years they've won the CINC's trophy…so it's a winning team, and that's where I want to go."

Otto got the chance to attend several Navy practices with the Mids in town for the Texas Bowl at the end of December, and shortly before the bowl game made his decision final.

"I committed two days before the Mizzou game," he said. "I had been going to their practices over at Rice, and then went to the one that was actually at Reliant. While I was there, watching the practice, I walked over to coach Niumatalolo and let him know that I'd like to be on the team and hopefully be up there with him next year."

Troy Aduddell, who has directed Clear Lake as head coach for the past 13 seasons, said he wasn't surprised when his right tackle gave his verbal pledge to the Midshipmen, saying that his star lineman's attitude both on and off the field make him an ideal candidate to withstand the rigors of life in Annapolis.

"Nate is an outstanding young man and he has a great family as a support group. He has always wanted to be a part of the Naval Academy and he has not wavered. He has been a Varsity athlete since his sophomore season and he has grown; not only physically but mentally as well. He was a captain this year and guided his peer with his continued work ethic."

"He is not a stranger in the weight room and he will do whatever is asked of him and do it without hesitation," added Aduddell, who also called Otto an "extremely athletic" offensive lineman who could possibly even play defense on the Division I level.

Given his background in the triple option and his athleticism as one of the state's top wrestlers, Otto should have no trouble finding the fast track towards starting on future Navy offensive lines. Before he gets to Annapolis he'll first take a stop at the Naval Academy Prep School, where he hopes to further develop as a player and student. It's an experience that Otto is looking forward to, and one which many of Navy's current offensive linemen got their starts.

"One of the big things that weekend I was up [on my visit to Navy] was when I went up to the coaches' offices and they were talking about all their starting offensive linemen they've had during their time," Otto recalled. "I think they said eight out of the ten of them had entered NAPS. I want to be in that top ten and top five and to start eventually at the Naval Academy, so going to NAPS is going to help me accomplish that."

Nate Otto may be a few years away from his goal of starting on Navy's offensive line, but make no mistake about it; he has the potential to be an impact performer for the Midshipmen. And while he could end up blocking for his hometown friend and former teammate Jarred Mack, you can bet this time around he won't just be one of the anonymous numbers carrying on the line.

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