Graduation day at the United States Naval Academy on May 27th was a day of celebration for 1,006 graduates and their families. The class of 800 men and 206 women, with a few exceptions, will soon be taking their places as Ensigns in the US Navy or second lieutenants in the US Marine Corps.
The class contains two extraordinary captains of the 2010 Navy football team—safety Wyatt Middleton and quarterback Ricky Dobbs who led Navy to four straight bowl seasons and four victories over Army. Both will receive consideration from the College Football Hall of Fame when they become eligible. What separates them from most other college athletes and unites them with their former rivals at the other service academies is their commitment to accepting positions of responsibility in the US military.
It was really a neat experience to meet both young men at the Army-Navy Game press conference in Philadelphia last December and find out first hand what impressive individuals they both are. I knew about the accomplishments of Ricky Dobbs less about Wyatt Middleton. In person, both were extraordinarily polite, thoughtful and ambitious. They both talked about the plans they have made and the service with the Navy they were genuinely looking forward to.
Ricky Dobbs ran for 2,654 yards and 49 touchdowns in less than three years of starting as an option quarterback for the Midshipmen. Additionally, he passed for 2,770 yards and another 20 touchdowns. The 27 touchdowns he scored as a junior playing the last part of the season with a broken kneecap is an NCAA scoring record for quarterbacks.
Ricky is a native of Douglasville, Georgia who has discussed his ambitions for the NFL and someday political office. In his graduation remarks, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mentioned the ambition of the new Ensign to one day to run for public office saying, when Dobbs, “finally throws his hat in the ring for President of the United States, he’ll have my endorsement.”
Q. How do you balance all your athletic, academic and military responsibilities:?
A. A lot of prayer; I pray to be able to maintain my focus and prioritize my time correctly. A lot of times with football, military life and academics, as tough as it is, sometimes something has to give, so you have to pick and choose what gives, an assignment, time to watch film or a formation. You have to just pick which one at that time should be the top priority.
Q. What academic major are you? What types of courses are you taking?
A. General Science major. Taking Oceanography, Analysis of Naval Tactics, Principles of Ship Performance, Thermodynamics, Biology and Electrical Engineering.
Q. Why does the Army game standout from all the others you play?
A. The Army game stands out because it is played up to be America's Game, last year and this year, it is the only game which is going to be on tv after the conference championship[ games, it is a very big game, it is a rich tradition.
Q. Do you prefer to run the ball or throw it?
A. I actually would rather throw the entire game rather than run. I come from a throwing offense in high school, didn't do triple option at all or any option; I would rather pass the ball than run the ball..
Q. Why did you select the Naval Academy?
A. Because of the future benefits, guarantees of a job, because life after football. I was planning for that. Set my future, my wife and kids up, for whenever I do settle down. I definitely have something, have a path that I can just walk in, is already set, football doesn't last for ever. If I were at a regular college or university and blew out my knee or something, then I might be stuck paying for college, but here, I can come here, and if I didn't like football, I could say on day one I don't want to play football and continue to go to school here.
Q. What are your plans after graduation?
A. I want to be a surface warfare officer on a ship. I want to be on a destroyer.
Q. An Arleigh Burke?
Q. Do you know that those shops have a billion dollars worth of radar?
Congratulations on your success.
A. Thank You!
Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times reports that Ricky Dobbs received his wish and was assigned to the USS Oscar Austin, a super sophisticated Arleigh Burke class destroyer named for an African-American Marine who received the Medal of Honor for heroic conduct, losing his life while attempting to save the life of a fellow marine in Vietnam.
Wyatt Middleton from Norcross, Georgia has a clear path in the Navy; he wants to be an engineer. But perhaps after a minimum of two years active duty, he may have a chance tryout for the NFL. Following the season, he was named the winner of the prestigious Roger Staubach Award, given to the Navy football senior deemed to have “Contributed the most to the team's success over his playing career.” Wyatt is the only player who saw action in every one of Navy’s 53 games over the past four years including 48 straight games through the end of the 2010 season. His career totals were 317 tackles, five interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
Middleton broke Army fans hearts last December when the Black Knights were threatening to score with a minute left in the first half, he grabbed a ball punched from the grasp of ARMY QB Trent Steelman and raced 98 yards to score a back-braking fumble recovery touchdown.
Now a graduate of the US Naval Academy, USNA.com reports that after six months as a graduate assistant football coach, Ensign Middleton will be taking his place on a US Navy minesweeper based in San Diego. Minesweepers often work in hostile areas preceding the arrival of larger ships or landing craft so he may soon be on the front line of the fight overseas. Before last fall's Army-Navy game we had a chance to talk with Wyatt who was busy balancing courses such as robotics and engineering management and maintaining a 2.8-2,,9 average with the demands of Division One college football:
Q. What are your plans after graduation?
A. Plan on becoming a "Surface Warfare Officer" with Engineering Duty Officer option, which means you become an engineer for the Navy. That means that after you stay on a ship for a year-and-a-half or two years,the Navy will send you off to MIT or the Naval Post Graduate School to get your Masters in mechanical engineering, systems engineering, or electrical engineering. Then you become a certified ED officer, and once you meet the qualifications, you can help design different weapons systems on the ship, or help design, new ships or future ships.
Q. What kind of a ship would you like to serve on?
A. No particular type of ship right now, from being out on my different service selections, "Amphibs" (Amphibious assault ships) seem to be the definitely seems the way to go, as long as it is a big ship.
Q. What do you think about your Navy colleagues who are serving on the front lines?
A. They are very impressive, without a doubt, to have signed up to be in the military after Sept. 11th, that is amazing to me. I know from being on the ships during our summer service assignments periods, I talk to a lot of enlisted guys, a lot of officers, no matter where they are in the world, they are watching this game. That is what makes this game so special. You know that Marines, or Sergeants in the Army in the caves of Afghanistan or in Iraq, one minute they will be taking fire, later in the day, they are watching the Army-Navy game, that is amazing to me. I know guys who have graduated from the Academy different marines who went infantry and have been in harm's way, they still find times to watch us play.
Q. With all the hype about the Army-Navy Game, do you find you have to remind your teammates that it is still just a football game?
A. Without a doubt, that is the most important thing; you can't get caught up in the hype. You have a lot of festivities going on during the week of the game. It comes down to it being another football game.You have to make sure you play your responsibilities and do it well, in order for your team to get the win. Without a doubt you have to make sure everyone's focus is on the game, You definitely have to focus on the opportunity that you have.
Q. What has been the key to the success of the Navy program in your tenure?
A. From my years here, what makes Navy a successful program, are the coaches. We have great coaches and great players on the team. Guys dedicated to the cause and sacrifice a lot to just be here to play football. Our coaches do a great job of getting us ready to play the games.
Congratulations and best wishes to all of the 2011 graduates of the US Naval Academy.
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona basketball for WVOX and Sons of the American Legion Radio. His aunt was a 27-year US Navy veteran, an uncle a US Navy aviator during WWII and a cousin is a USNA graduate of the 1960s. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org