Polanco from Afghanistan, Part Two

How good could Aaron Polanco have been if he, like Ricky Dobbs, would have had two seasons as a starting quarterback in Navy's triple option offense? In his only one he led the team to 10 wins. And what are the chances that he will follow his former teammates, Craig Candeto and Lamar Owens, into the coaching ranks? Those questions and more are answered in Part Two of my series about Polanco.

Aaron Polanco did not have a chance to watch the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl in February, so he missed the opportunity to watch his former teammate Kyle Eckel earn his championship ring.

 

"(The game) was on the opposite shift of what I was flying on so I did not get to actually watch it. I did hear that Kyle was on the Saints. It was good to hear that he won the Super Bowl. It's been awhile since we talked, but it's good to see that he is still supporting everybody," said Polanco.

 

Polanco never doubted that Eckel had what it took to compete at the next level.

 

"I always thought he was good enough. It's pretty amazing that he came from our team – from Navy of all places. We don't get a lot of recognition. There are not a lot of big time players coming out of Navy."

 

Like Eckel, who followed his dream to play football, Polanco too is doing something that he always had set his sights on – flying.

 

"I really like it. It's something you always dream out – flying in combat, which is something a lot of people have gotten (a chance) to do lately with Iraq and Afghanistan. It's good to be a part of that group," said Polanco.

 

And if everything goes as he hopes, don't expect to see the former quarterback doing anything different anytime soon. Polanco earned his aviator wings a year ago, so he still has a significant commitment remaining to the military.

 

"You have to serve six years from when you get your wings. So I still have five more years until I would have to make a decision to stay in or get out," said Polanco. "I'll be with this squadron for at least two more years. After that, we'll see. We don't know in advance where we will go. It's like any place – you see what jobs are open. Right now I'm not sure."

 

So unlike his former peers, Craig Candeto and Lamar Owens, who have already begun their coaching careers and are now on Paul Johnson's staff at Georgia Tech, Polanco has no plans in the immediate future to join their profession.

 

"I'll never say (coaching) is not a (possibility), but I'll obviously be doing this for a little while longer. Who knows, maybe some day," said Polanco.

 

Speaking of Polanco's former coach, the former quarterback who rushed for 980 yards and 16 touchdowns in his senior season said that he "wasn't surprised at all" when he heard that Johnson moved on from Navy.

 

"I just figured he would have maybe stayed around (in Annapolis) another year or two. But I think he knew deep down that he did all that he could do (at Navy)," said Polanco. I think he just wanted something new. He was always into taking schools and turning them around, and breaking the Notre Dame curse was a big factor for him. He left it in good hands with Coach Niumatalolo."

 

"It's good to see (Johnson) helping guys out. He coached (current Navy offensive coordinator) Coach Jasper…he coached Niumatalolo…it's good to see that he doesn't forget guys who were willing to put in the hard work…especially with Craig and Lamar," added Polanco.

 

One of the former coaches that Polanco said that he keeps in regular touch with is Jasper, who was in charge of the quarterbacks before being promoted to offensive coordinator when Johnson left.

 

"I'll call Coach Jasper every now and then. I called him before I came out here. He always calls the quarterbacks to check in with them before the season starts. Once the season starts, he's pretty into it, so you don't want to (call) and mess with his mojo – you know how coaches can get," joked Polanco.

 

A topic that has probably come up is the performance of current Navy signal caller, Ricky Dobbs. The soon-to-be senior is about to embark on his second full season behind center for the Midshipmen – a feat not frequently accomplished for the triple option team.

 

"(Ricky is) good. And it's good to see the quarterback stay in the spot for awhile. With Craig and me, we kind of just did the one-year deal. If you have good coaching behind it, you can do a lot of things (with the extra year)," said Polanco.

 

The idea of Polanco having an opportunity to play for two straight years at the position is something that Jasper has thought about.

 

"I would have loved to see him have another year," said Jasper. "Aaron was the most unique guy I have coached in this offense. Nothing ever bothered him."

 

As an example of Polanco's poise, Jasper quickly thought of his performance in Colorado Springs in 2004 when he led the Midshipmen to a dramatic 24-21 victory over Air Force. In that game, the senior threw an interception on the fifth play from scrimmage, but he kept making plays, including a huge one late in the game.

 

"In the Air Force game when it was third down and a critical play fell apart, (Polanco) found Marco Nelson coming across the field, wide open," recalled Jasper. He never let difficult situations bother him."

 

One situation which Polanco said bothered Jasper while the two were player and coach in Annapolis was the idea of watching old Hawaii game film.

 

"We would always ask him about his playing days (at Hawaii)," remembered Polanco. "And (after several requests), he finally pulled out the film one day. We'd always ask him about it. Just to see him in his younger days…with his jersey all curled up…it was pretty funny."

 

Polanco's recollection that Jasper used to intentionally fold up his football jersey to expose his stomach was refuted by his former coach.

 

"They hemmed it right below the numbers. I had abs back then…it was pretty cool," countered Jasper. "That was a great time with Aaron and Lamar in the film room. We could always joke at times, but when it was time to get down to business, they did."

 

Polanco said that his football playing days have helped him in a variety of ways while serving in Afghanistan, including the long hours spent watching game film.

 

"You definitely look back at the hard work we put in. You have to do the same thing now. All of the studying…all the film…that you did with football. You definitely have to put in just as much time and concentration with your job (over here) – and the (stakes) are a lot higher because people's lives, including your own, are on the line," said Polanco.

 

The fact that Polanco and several other Navy football players are currently serving in combat is a constant reminder to Jasper that his coaching job is a very unique one. He said he gets choked up just thinking about it. 

 

"I am fortunate to be in the place I am and coaching these kids. I love coaching these guys and what they stand for. Aaron is such a unique kid and now he is over there defending our country. He is providing freedom for me. It makes me appreciate life," said Jasper.

 

"I wish every coach in the country had a chance to experience being a part of this special place, and to coach players like Aaron."

 


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