Sykes Gives Navy Local Recruiting Edge

Ken Niumatalolo has a saying when talking about his team's continued success: Never get complacent. After signing several highly touted high school prospects in the Class of 2010, it certainly looks like the Mids have been anything but when it comes to complacency on the recruiting trail. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, especially when recruiting local players.

As only one of two FBS programs in the state of Maryland, one might think that Navy would continually be in play for the services of the state's premier high school prospects. Likewise, given the state's proximity to talent rich and military oriented areas in Virginia and DC, it would also stand to reason that the Mids would attract a roster full of prep stars from the Capital region.

That assumption hasn't proven true for Navy in recent years, however. In fact, the current Midshipmen roster contains only eight players from Maryland, and only one player from Virginia. The University of Maryland, on the other hand, has a combined 56 players from the two states, as well as several players from Washington D.C. (Navy currently has no DC natives on the roster). And while the Mids are well represented by traditional hotbeds such as Texas, Florida and Georgia, the program is nevertheless looking to consolidate its efforts in the increasingly competitive DC Metro area. This according to newly hired Navy assistant coach Napoleon Sykes, who has been assigned the duty of recruiting players in Delaware, Maryland, DC, and Virginia for Niumatalolo's program.

"I feel like we've got a great opportunity to get more guys out of this area," said Sykes in a recent interview with

"Virginia Beach is a pretty military oriented area and a lot of the kids down here come from military families, while Maryland has got the connection with a lot of kids wanting to stay home. So there are a lot of opportunities to get kids -- especially with the military influence in this area – to stay around and be a part of Navy football."

Sykes hasn't been on the job long for Navy – nearly three months, to be precise. But already the Maryland native and former Wake Forest special teams ace has shown his worth, taking over for departed secondary coach Joe Speed both on the practice field and on the recruiting trail. A Maryland native who played his high school ball at Baltimore powerhouse Gilman, Sykes brings a level of familiarity with the region and its high school coaches to the Navy staff. In a March interview with, Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green spoke highly of Sykes, and said that the young assistant's connections will pay dividends for the program as the summer recruiting season gets under way.

"Coach Sykes brings a lot to the program," said Green, who also coaches Navy's secondary. "He played at Wake Forest and has coached at Wake Forest. As far this area goes recruiting wise, we think he'll do a great job recruiting in the Baltimore and Virginia areas."

Sykes is modest when talking about his contributions to Navy recruiting, but did say that he thinks his local connections to the Baltimore area give him an advantage when selling both the Academy football program and the Academy experience to local prospects. Knowing the coaches in the greater Baltimore area certainly helps, but above all, he said, having a young assistant coach whom the recruits can identify with conveys a sense of trust to both players and their families.

"The neat thing is that a lot of the coaches who are coaching in the Maryland area and who coach at the schools I hit [on the recruiting trail] are the same guys who were coaching when I was in high school," said Sykes, who served as a graduate assistant at Wake Forest before coming to Navy in March. "So a lot of them remember me from when I was a player."

"I think just the idea of a guy being from that area holds a lot of weight with not only the coaches and families but the kids," he added. "Being recruited by a guy who knows where they're from and knows their area…having a guy like that from the Maryland area really helps in [local] recruiting."

Sykes said it's important for Navy to improve in its efforts to recruit local prospects, and pointed to Maryland's growing reputation as an up-and-coming prep hotbead as one reason why. Coupled with the traditionally competitive nature of Virginia high school programs both in suburban DC and in Virginia Beach, the mid-Atlantic presents a real opportunity to programs like Navy which are looking to gain an edge on the ACC and SEC schools which have long mined the area clean of talent.

"I feel like with Maryland football starting to get better -- and it's always been good but it's becoming one of those things where the state is getting heavily recruited nationally – I feel like there is room to improve," he said. "Virginia has always had it, and Virginia Beach has always had kids, but with these states being heavily recruited now, you're finding more talent."

Just how competitive has Maryland prep football become? It's hard to quantify, but Sykes said he's noticed a real difference in both the amount of prospects and the quality of prospects in the area. Not yet a decade removed from his own playing days at Gilman, Sykes is convinced that the improved nature of the state's programs leaves more opportunities for Navy to sign FBS level prospects that the larger BCS powers just don't have room to sign.

"[Prospects] are coming from the woodworks, instead of like the old days when I was in high school, and we only saw about four or five kids come out of Maryland every year that everyone knew about," Sykes said. "The rest of us were kind of no names and sleepers. But now, the area has a ton of great athletes and a ton of great young men who really fit into what we do both football wise and in the Academy scheme of things."

Sykes remains confident in his ability to help Navy bolster its local influence in recruiting, but said that any success the program has in attracting Baltimore area prospects to its ranks this summer will be due more to its past success than any great influence of his own. No longer just offering no-name prospects who fly under-the-radar of most FBS programs, the Academy is slowly becoming a major player in mid-Atlantic recruiting, and even beginning to flex its muscles against other mid-tier FBS programs and even some local BCS teams.

"One of the great things, and clearly I have nothing to do with it, is really the things that coach Niumat, coach Green, and coach Johnson have done in the past seven or eight years," he said.

"They've created a great scheme for me when I'm out on the road. It has gotten to the point where [as coaches] we're out on the road and we feel like we can offer those kids what those other schools are offering…Kids kind of know about Navy football now. It's a neat deal, and I feel like as coaches we're getting out on the road and competing with the big dogs a little bit, and we're getting in the mix for some guys that have I-A offers now."

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