Douglass Rights the Ship

Navy center Eric Douglass knows a little something about roller coaster years.

Hardly a blip of the radar screen of most Navy fans coming into 2009, the former nose guard was third on the depth chart at his new position as Navy prepared to open the year. Lost amidst a group of more experienced linemen, the Owasso, Oklahoma native didn't figure to play a key role in the team's success to come, and would have been just as content to wait his turn for future opportunities.

The opportunity came sooner than expected. Thrust into the lineup against Notre Dame, Douglass made his first collegiate start in one of college football's most hallowed venues against a team few gave Navy a chance of beating.

"That was the most nervous I have ever been in my entire life," said Douglass. "I was so nervous I had to go throw up in the bathroom. It was my first start, and for it to come against Notre Dame – which in our minds' is a huge rivalry – it was wild."

Douglass' nervousness hardly seemed to show on the field. Playing as if he were a seasoned veteran, the 6-foot-2, 267-pound sophomore was nearly flawless. Firing off the ball with tremendous intensity and strength, Douglass helped pave the way for nearly 350 rushing yards against Notre Dame, while more than handling former prep All-American and Irish NG Ian Williams. It was just the beginning of a late season surge by Douglass, who would go on to start the next three games and help punch Navy's ticket to the Texas Bowl.

Yes sir. Life appeared to be good for Douglass, whose two remaining years of eligibility led many Navy fans to speculate on his future gridiron conquests even before the Mids capped off the 2009 season. Little did they know Douglass' December wasn't nearly as festive as the season would have it. Struggling to balance football, academics, and the military rigors of the Academy, something had to give for the sophomore by the end of the fall term. Unfortunately for him, that something was his academic eligibility.

"What really brought me down was my physics grade," Douglass explained. "It's a four credit class, so it's huge in determining your GPA. I ended up taking a ‘D' in that class and it brought me down below the 1.9 mark that I needed to have to be eligible."

Douglass' slip-up cost him his chance to play in the Texas bowl. Instead of playing, he had to watch from afar as Brady DeMell snapped the ball to Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in the 35-17 drubbing of Missouri. For Douglass, being unable to join his teammates in the game was more than just a missed opportunity. It was incentive to never let his academic progress slide again.

"It was probably the most embarrassing thing I've ever experienced in my life," said Douglass, who is majoring in Economics at the Academy.

"Not only did I let myself down, but I let the team down and let my family down," he added. "I told myself that I could never let it happen again, so it was a huge incentive for me to bounce back from that and make good grades so I could keep playing."

Douglass went into the spring semester as a man on a mission. While he admitted that he has never been "the smartest guy," he said that he never experienced academic problems before in his life. Refusing to use the football season as an excuse, he nevertheless maintained that the challenges of balancing school and academics carry a heavy burden for Midshipmen football players.

"Just because we're varsity athletes and play football doesn't mean we don't have to do the normal Midshipmen mission," Douglass said. "It's a struggle to keep your grades up while doing the military thing and the football thing. It can be a real struggle."

Fortunately for Douglass, the Navy football "Brotherhood" extends beyond the gridiron, and after consulting with head coach Ken Niumatalolo, a plan was put in place to get Douglass back on the path towards academic success. Douglass took another crack at the Physics class which gave him so much trouble in the fall, and with the help of an extra two-and-a-half hours a day he was able to get a jump on the workload. He also received tutoring help from teammate and fellow junior John Dowd, an Academic All-American in 2009. Douglass said Dowd's help, coupled with weekly progress reports to his coaches, helped keep him at the top of his game.

"I would go to (John Dowd) for help, and I'd have to turn in grade reports each week to my position coach, (Ashley) Ingram," said Douglass. "That would help me keep on track."

The plan paid off. Even with spending a month engaged in spring football drills, Douglass aced his Physics class this past semester, finishing with an ‘A' in the class and boosting his cumulative GPA to the 2.88 mark. Not only did he earn his eligibility back, but he continued to impress on the field. He's currently listed as Navy's starting center, and is expected to anchor a veteran Midshipmen line that could be the best in years.

Having righted the ship academically, Douglass is now tuned in and focused on getting ready for the season. Despite his fantastic showing at the tail-end of 2009 he knows his starting position is anything but guaranteed, especially considering that the interior of Navy's line features several players who could be in the mix at the center and guard positions.

"There is always going to be someone to battle with for that position," Douglass said. "There is always going to be good competition. We have a lot of good talent coming up, so it's always a battle."

The forthcoming position battle at center between Douglass and teammates Kahikolu Pescaia and Matt Couch promises to be one of the more intriguing come August, but Douglass isn't losing too much sleep over it. No longer an anonymous face struggling to balance the challenges of school and football, he's instead a confident upperclassman who understands that it's often the challenges – both on and off the field – which lead each of us to make our greatest strides.

"I think (the competition) is good because it keeps me playing scared," he said. "It keeps everyone playing scared. It makes you push the envelope of what you're capable of because you're always trying to play better, trying to beat the guy next to you."

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