Navy's Singleton Still Reaching for the Stars

Checked out the college football headlines as of late?

I wouldn't blame you if you haven't. From a Mississippi football player dying after an offseason workout to the arrest of Oregon star running back LaMichael James, it seems like nothing good can come out of the months we used to refer to as the "offseason." Coaching scandals persist, personal tragedies are a weekly occurrence, and it feels like almost every day we hear about a new arrest of another high-profile student athlete. Even the United States Naval Academy doesn't seem immune, as recent events involving slotback Marcus Curry have raised questions over the team's disciplinary policy.

All of this begs the question; where have all of our college football heroes gone?

Not far, to be perfectly honest, and those familiar with the Academy shouldn't need their compasses to find them. That's because for every alleged incident circling around an internet message board or Facebook group, there are dozens of positive actions being taken by past and present Navy football players which too often go unnoticed. Don't take this civilian's word for it? You don't have to. Just ask former Brigade Commander and current Marine Corps officer Zerbin Singleton, who starred as a slotback on Navy's 2006 and 2007 teams.

"You always hear about what's going on when something bad happens, but you don't always hear about the great things that come from the team or the great things the players are doing at the Academy or in the community," said Singleton, who is preparing to start the "Primary" phase of flight school in Corpus Christi, Texas.

"You don't often hear about that stuff, but when one bad thing happens it makes world-wide news, and it's kind of sad sometimes," he added.

Singleton is living proof that the Naval Academy football program is more than just consecutive wins over Army and Air Force and bowl appearances in each of the last seven seasons. His story is widely known, but bears repeating.

Born in Alaska, Singleton dealt with adversity from an early age. His mother was a drug-addict who was nearly killed by a bounty hunter when he was 11, while his biological father was out of the picture for the first 15 years of his life. Sent to live with relatives in Decatur, Georgia, when his mother violated her parole, Singleton would go on to meet his father several years later while attending Columbia High School. As class President and the captain of his football team, Zerb seemed to have triumphed over adversity, and was accepted to the United States Naval Academy.

But with things finally looking up, tragedy struck again. The spring before entering the Academy, Zerb was struck by a drunk driver as he was coming back from a school event. The result, a broken collarbone, derailed his plans to enter the Academy. Unable to gain medical clearance for Plebe Summer, Singleton was forced to go to Georgia Tech. Looking to continue his dual academic and athletic success, Singleton was cut from the football team by then head coach Chain Gailey, seemingly ending his dream of playing major college football. And while he would eventually find his way back to Annapolis, it was during Zerb's plebe year that his father committed suicide.

With such a difficult road behind him, just finishing out his time at Navy would have been an accomplishment in its own right. But for Singleton, ever the dreamer, it wouldn't be enough. He didn't just make Navy's football team, he starred on it. And he didn't just graduate from Navy, but he excelled while on the Yard. He talked openly about his wish to become an astronaut, while his play on the field helped Navy earn national recognition. Graduating with a 3.14 GPA in Aerospace Engineering, Singleton was named to the highest position a Midshipmen can achieve in the Academy's leadership structure – Brigade Commander.

Singleton isn't shy when talking about the factors which helped him to overcome the trials and tribulations of his youth. An unabashed Christian who "puts God first," Singleton credits his faith with helping him become the man he is today.

"No matter what I face, I believe that whatever happens, happens for a reason," he said. "My childhood and the things I went through growing up, I mean it just proves that it doesn't matter what you face in life because you can overcome it and achieve what you want, and it's ultimately in your hands and your beliefs. For me the biggest thing is my faith in God, and I had to have that faith and I know He has been there with me through thick and thin."

While it is his faith which ultimately drives and sustains him, Singleton also credits the Naval Academy – in particular its football program and coaches – with supporting him through his tumultuous first year at the Academy, and stepping in to fill the void left by his deceased father. The example of the Navy coaches as role models, said Singleton, is something all Navy players can and will attest to.

"The coaches at the Academy are like fathers to a lot of the young men," Singleton said. "We've been over to their houses, and we know their whole family and their whole family knows us. It's just one big family at the Naval Academy, and the coaches take care of their players…To have coaches that actually care – and not necessarily about how you're doing on the field, but how you're doing in life – is great."

The culture of Navy football didn't just help Zerbin overcome the obstacles during his first year the Academy, they pushed him to become a better person, midshipmen, and leader. In a place where ‘teamwork' is more than just a worn-out cliché on a practice field, Singleton learned that the unselfishness shown on the gridiron has real-life implications.

"In the military, the biggest thing that you're working with is teamwork, and what better sport than football shows that?" Singleton said. "Just like on the football field, if my linemen weren't blocking or I wasn't blocking for maybe Reggie [Campbell] or another running back then that play wasn't going to work, so in the military it's all about teamwork."

"Being on the football field, there are a lot of things you need to overcome and when you think you've reached your limit you have to go a little bit farther," he added. "It's just like that in the military, and for me right now that means getting ready and studying for flight school. But I know people who have been overseas and they have to overcome much more serious obstacles in order to accomplish their mission."

These days, Singleton is as busy as ever, and he's still reaching for the stars and still dreaming of becoming an astronaut. He's even added a new accomplishment to his ever-expanding resume; motivational speaker.

"A lot of times I'm telling my life story and trying instill or inspire people to do things that they never thought were possible and doing things that they never knew they could achieve," said Singleton, who recently returned from giving a speech at the Disney Dreamers Academy, a nonprofit group which helps to motivate ask-risk youth.

"I'm out there trying to help people do things that they never thought were possible, and helping them understand that no matter what you face in life, treading the path of adversity often leads to the destination of your dreams," he added.

As a Marine, leader, and former Navy football player, Singleton has accomplished more in his 25 years on this earth than most people could ever imagine accomplishing in a lifetime. So how long will it be until he literally grabs hold of the stars?

"I'm thinking probably at least another ten years. A lot of astronauts don't go into outer space until at least their late 30s or early 40s," he said with a laugh.

So fear not, college football fans, because despite the headlines, there are still a lot of good things being done on the sidelines of campuses across American. No more apparent is this than in Annapolis, where the "spirit" of Navy football still lives on, even though one of its greatest players has moved on to bigger and better things.

"We have a lot of great players and a lot of players doing positive things," said Singleton. "We can't let the negatives take us from our goals and the ultimate spirit of what Navy football is."


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