Aside from assisting Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green in the secondary during spring practice, Sykes has been out on the road recruiting this spring. Responsible for the states of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia as well as the District of Columbia, Sykes took time out of his busy schedule to give GoMids the scoop on how his transition from Wake Forest has gone, as well as his strategy for attracting local prep prospects to the Academy.
GoMids.com: How has the transition from a GA at Wake Forest to assistant secondary coach at Navy been for you?
Napoleon Sykes: It's really been a good transition. I couldn't have asked for a better transition. It's good being back close to home, and it's been a really good learning experience. Coach [Ken Niumatalolo] is a really great guy, and one of the largest reasons I even showed any interest in the job was because of him. Also, just being under Buddy Green – and Buddy Green is a great guy and a pretty special coach when it comes to defense – I've been learning stuff from him. And then just creating some pretty special relationships with some of the guys like Wyatt Middleton and Kevin Edwards and Emmett Merchant have really helped make that transition just go smoothly and well. So it's been great, and the staff has really done a great job of just welcoming me in. It almost feels like I've been here for a lot longer than two months.
GoMids.com: How did you end up getting the job at Navy? Was it a situation where you were actively looking for any job, or were you contacted by Navy after coach Joe Speed moved on?
Napoleon Sykes:It's funny, because I had worked as a GA at Wake and was kind of looking for a job. I had interviewed at a few places but hadn't heard back from any place yet, and then I heard that coach Speed had left the Naval Academy. I knew he had recruited [the Maryland/DC/Virginia] area, so I thought that it would be perfect considering I was from Baltimore and all of that. I sent an email in to coach Niumat just thinking that he would recognize me because we had played Navy at Wake and had met in the bowl game. A coach at Wake Forest – coach [Keith Henry] – is really good buddies with Buddy Green, and he called Buddy Green later that week. It just so happens that the same day coach Niumat was going through resumes and got to mine, he took it down to Buddy Green. When he took it down to coach Green he said he had a kid from Wake Forest, and Buddy Green was like, ‘I've got a kid from Wake Forest.' So it just so happens that they both got my resume on the same day, and coach Niumat called coach Grobe, who was gracious enough to say some good things about me. They had me up for an interview, and the rest is history.
GoMids.com: One of your new responsibilities in recruiting the mid-atlantic states, specifically Maryland and Virginia. It seems as though Navy has struggled in recruiting this area in the past, and that local recruiting is one facet in which the program can still improve. What is your message for local recruits, and how important is it for Navy to improve in its local recruiting presence?
Napoleon Sykes: I think the Naval Academy has a lot to offer [local prospects]. For starters, we're in a great area and Annapolis is an awesome town. I feel like we've got a great opportunity to get more guys out of this area. 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. 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. 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. [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…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.
GoMids.com: Do you think your local connections to the Baltimore region and ‘ACC country' gives you an advantage in your ability to recruit this area?
Napoleon Sykes: I think so. 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. So a lot of them remember me from when I was a player. Some of those guys coached me in all star games and some I coached with when I was at Gilman for a year. 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. Being recruiting 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.
GoMids.com: Obviously coaching at Navy is a bit different from coaching at another university. Has it been a difficult adjustment for you, or are you finding that there are quite a few similarities in coaching at Navy and a place like Wake Forest?
Napoleon Sykes: I had a level of respect for the Naval Academy coming in just because of coach Grobe and him being at the Air Force Academy for so long. Coach [Steed Labotzke], coach [Brian Knorr] and all those guy were Air Force guys, and coach [Troy] Calhoun was the offensive coordinator when I was a freshman at Wake Forest. So as players and coaches we always had a respect for the Naval Academy. Coming in I didn't know a whole lot about the Academy even with being a Maryland guy, and that's one thing I'm trying to do with my recruiting in the Maryland area…get guys aware. I mean, there are some recruits who don't even know the Academy is in Annapolis, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what we do here at what you can have at the Naval Academy. But back to the similarities; they are really the same kids as the ones we were dealing with at Wake Forest. Even talent wise, being on the other side of the guys that I'm now coaching, there are some really talented kids here. They are a great bunch. So similarity wise they are the same types of kids…they are good kids and come from good families, have a strong work ethic, and are motivated to do well in the classroom and do well on the field. They are really great kids, and that's one of the things which really drew me towards coach Niumat. Coming from a program like coach Grobe's -- where his motto was -- ‘always bring in good kids and the rest will fall into place.' Coach Niumat is the same kind of deal.
Go Mids: That's interesting. So you haven't encountered any substantial differences that have been kind of a ‘culture' shock as far as coaching goes?
Napoleon Sykes: Well, I guess the biggest difference is – and I don't even know if I'd say it is a difference so much as it was a hurdle for me – was to realize that these kids aren't that much different. You think that just because kids wear a uniform to school everyday that they're that much different. But they're just like your regular old kids who love playing football at a Maryland or a Duke or Wake Forest or Notre Dame. They love the game just as hard as those guys, and I think that that was one of the biggest hurdles – not that there was a difference, but just coming to the realization that these guys are just like anyone else's kids.
Be sure to check back next week for Part II of our discussion with coach Sykes, as he talks about the importance of social media in recruiting, as well as his thoughts on the Wake Forest-Navy rivalry.
Preseason Chat: Napoleon Sykes (Part 1)
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