2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Enemy Lines: Season 3, Part 3

    Wed, September 30, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Note: This is Part 3 of “Enemy Lines,” a series in which I trade e-mails with Christian Swezey, one of my good friends and a fellow sportswriter who has covered Navy for years. Scroll down to see the first two e-mails in our exchange.


    Not too much talk about Army yet. But it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the Black Knights are 2-2 and clearly playing better football. I, for one, think they’ve finally got the right fit at coach in Rich Ellerson.

    According to the folks at the academy, there’s a group of about 600 cadets (including the band) heading to Annapolis for the game, which apparently is a little more than usual.

    Players on Tuesday said they’ve heard a lot of talk up on the hill from cadets not on the football team about Navy week. One thing I definitely found interesting is that some of the older players on the team have sent e-mails out to teammates stressing the need for emotion this week. Some of the e-mails, apparently, list stats, including the most important one: Six. As in consecutive victories by Navy.

    Interesting take about the confidence factor. And I liked your reference to OU-Nebraska in the 70s. Another rivalry that has had skewed streaks is Notre Dame-USC. The Trojans currently have won seven in a row. But the Irish won 11 straight from 1983 through 1993 and pulled out some classics in that stretch, including a one-point victory in ’86 and a 28-24 Tony Rice-led victory in 1989 (which happened to be played on the day of my freshman year Homecoming Dance. I refused to get ready for the dance until the game was over, and I believe a threat was lobbed during an ill-timed phone call from my girlfriend at the time that I wasn’t going if Todd Marinovich led USC to a victory. Needless to say, we broke up later that year).

    Anyhow, where was I?

    Right, confidence. Both Navy kids I talked to downplayed confidence as a factor, but I’ve got to believe, as you said, it plays a big part. That’s why I think if the Falcons want to win, two things will be absolutely critical: One, they’ll have to get off to a good start to build some confidence of their own. And, two, (and perhaps most importantly), they’ll have to avoid giving up big plays or making the huge mistakes (like, say, a blocked punt) that could start the “here we go again” thoughts.

    One thing I wanted to ask: What are Navy’s special teams like?

    Air Force had a big question mark at kicker with the departure of Ryan Harrison, but sophomore Erik Soderberg has filled in quite admirably so far. The return game has been better than in recent seasons, and punter Brandon Geyer is becoming a factor.

    These games often can be decided by special teams, so do you think they’ll play a big factor this year?

  • Wednesday Morning Links and Notes

    Wed, September 30, 2009 by admin with no comments

    I wrote for today’s edition of The Gazette about Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, and how he has given the Midshipmen the ability to throw the ball better. I also wrote a pair of stories that appeared only on-line: A piece on quarterback Tim Jefferson and my weekly Around the Mountain West Conference notebook, which touches on the new quarterback at Wyoming, New Mexico’s difficult start and Utah running back Matt Asiata’s season-ending injury.

    Also, an article in the Annapolis Capital says Navy has plenty of respect for Air Force.

    A few additional notes I couldn’t fit in my stories about Dobbs and Jefferson:

    -Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo called Dobbs “one of the most special leaders that I’ve ever been around.”

    Niumatalolo said last spring, before one of Navy’s 5:30 a.m. conditioning sessions, he noticed about 30 Midshipmen – non-football players – joining the team to work out.

    “I was wondering who they were,” Niumatalolo said. “They were Ricky’s company. They came on their own. Sometimes we talk about building a bridge between the football team and the brigade. Those kids love Ricky. Just like our team loves him.”

    Niumatalolo said in scrimmage situations, players are extremely competitive. But he said he’ll see defensive players “sack (Dobbs) and want to help him up or take him down softly. You can’t help but love him.”

    -I noted in the story that Dobbs has carried quite a load for the Midshipmen (98 carries in four games). And, as Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil pointed out, Dobbs is getting hit on many more plays than just the ones where he gets credit for a run. Often a quarterback running the option will get drilled as he pitches the ball.

    “He’s an extremely tough guy who takes a beating every game,” Pospisil said. “He has a great tenacity and toughness about him.”

    “Durability,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “That’s a key trait for a quarterback.”

    Dobbs’ secret for dealing with the pounding?

    Epsom salts.

    “I soak in a tub with Epsom salt every week,” he said. “It’s an old remedy my grandma gave me.”

    Dobbs said he’d been using the remedy since middle school.

    “If I’d complain about my neck or a knee (my grandma) would run water in the tub, put Epsom salt in and tell me to just sit there.”

    -Calhoun had very high praise for Dobbs, calling him “a superb passer,” and putting him in the same group as some pretty darn good signal-callers.

    “I look over probably about the last 12 years of college football, and there’ve been a few guys that stand out in terms of how balanced they are – in terms of being able to execute some option and also be able to throw the ball exceptionally well,” Calhoun said. “He (Dobbs) comes to mind. I thought (former Utah quarterback) Alex Smith was that way. And then when Georgia Tech had Joe Hamilton.”

    -Jefferson also was recruited by Navy, but he picked Air Force because, “I felt a lot more comfortable with the Air Force coaching staff than I did with Navy’s at the time.

    “The head coach (at Navy) at the time was Paul Johnson. Him and I, we really didn’t get along that well during the recruiting time, so that was more the reason why I chose Air Force.”

    -Jefferson had an interesting take when he was asked if winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is still the top goal for Air Force.

    “With coach Calhoun coming in, he kind of leaned toward the side of winning the Mountain West Conference championship first, then the Commander-in-Chief’s championship,” Jefferson said. “But to the players that were here with (former coach Fisher) DeBerry, and some of the new guys that came in with Calhoun, I still think that our mindset is (winning) the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is just as important as winning a Mountain West Conference Trophy. So it’s still at the top of our list.”

  • Around the MWC

    Tue, September 29, 2009 by admin with no comments

    My on-line only Around the Mountain West Conference notebook now is available on Gazette.com.

    I touch on Wyoming’s new quarterback, troubles at Wyoming and Utah running back Matt Asiata’s injury.

  • Enemy Lines: Season 3, Part 2

    Tue, September 29, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Note: This is Part 2 of “Enemy Lines,” an annual series in which I trade e-mails with Christian Swezey, one of my good friends and a fellow sportswriter who has covered Navy for years. The first e-mail in our exchange is a few posts below.


    The Ohio State game was pretty deceiving. After watching the game and reading the stories, I had to remind myself that Navy was 0-1 and not 1-0. Navy looked like it, too, needed a reminder: In its next game it fell behind La Tech 14-0.

    Navy’s harder early season schedule is good and bad. Junior QB Ricky Dobbs already has 92 carries; that’s a lot.

    And the starting OLBs – seniors Clint Sovie and Ram Vela – were injured against Pitt. It looked like Navy was hoping to hold them out against Western Kentucky as neither one started.

    Yet the Hilltoppers were moving the ball well. So Sovie was pressed into action for most of the second half. (Vela had been in a couple plays in the first half but didn’t look ready.)

    About confidence: Look at Iowa-Penn State last week. The Hawkeyes entered having won six of seven in the series (the same record Navy has against Air Force). Penn State clearly was not overlooking Iowa this year and scored a touchdown on its opening play.

    Yet Iowa hung in there. And in the fourth quarter, Iowa made its run and Penn State fell apart (two huge turnovers from its two best offensive players). One team clearly was confident and one was not.

    I remember, too, Oklahoma’s long winning streak against Nebraska in the 1970s. Oklahoma had so many come-from-behind wins that Barry Switzer called it “Sooner Magic.” Nebraska entered confident and with good teams but, as one writer later said, “Oklahoma had a strange effect [on the Huskers]; they never got Nebraska’s best game.”

    I’m wondering if there are any thoughts out there on how Army has looked so far. In recent memory, the Navy-AF winner has locked up the CIC trophy. Does anyone at AF think Army will become more of a player in future CIC races?

    Also, what is the mood like among the AF players and the Cadet Wing in general? I heard that around 1,000 of the Cadet Wing will be traveling to the Navy game. Is that true and, if so, is that more than in past years?

  • Navy Preparing for Jefferson

    Tue, September 29, 2009 by admin with 1 comment

    Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s showdown with Navy. But, according to The Washington Post, the Midshipmen are preparing for sophomore Tim Jefferson.

  • Ramsey on Air Force’s QBs

    Tue, September 29, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Gazette columnist David Ramsey writes on his blog today that there should be no quarterback controversy at Air Force. Ramsey says there is a clear answer to the question of who should start at quarterback for the Falcons. Read his post on his blog, http://daveramseysez.freedomblogging.com.

  • Enemy Lines: Season 3, Part 1

    Tue, September 29, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Whenever I can, I like to have people who know more about college football than me – like the BlogDog, for instance – contribute to the blog.

    This week, I’ve got another contributor whose football knowledge puts me to shame.

    For the third season, I’ll be trading Air Force-Navy e-mails with Christian Swezey, one of my good friends from back home (Washington, D.C.), and posting them here.

    Sweze has covered Navy since 2001, first for The Washington Post and now for GoMids.com and Navysports.com. He’s followed the Midshipmen even longer. He has terrific insight about Navy and is an incredible historical source for college football in general and service academy football in particular.

    Here’s the initial e-mail in our exchange …


    Before I get to Air Force-Navy, I thought I’d let you know that I’ve been wearing out my firedansnyder.com t-shirt the last few weeks.

    Anyway, to the game …

    Folks around here obviously were impressed with Navy’s effort at Ohio State in the opening week of the season. Since then the Midshipmen have sandwiched two wins – over Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky – around a loss to Pitt. I’d argue Navy’s loss to OSU was its best performance of the season, but I’m curious what you think.

    Also, Air Force is 3-1, but it’s difficult to say how good the Falcons are because their three victories came against dreadful teams (Ramsey referred to them as “The Three Stooges.”). Do we know how good Navy is and how it stacks up with Navy teams from the last few years?

    Finally, one thing that will be discussed often this week is the confidence factor. Air Force used to have it, when it was winning the CIC seemingly every year, and Navy probably has it now with six straight victories. How big is that factor?

  • Tuesday Morning Links

    Tue, September 29, 2009 by admin with no comments

    April, according to T.S. Elliot’s poem The Waste Land, is the cruelest month.

    I guess T.S. didn’t check out Air Force’s October slate.

    At archrival Navy, home against No. 11 TCU and a better-than-expected Wyoming, then back on the road to face defending league champ Utah and rapidly improving Colorado State.

    Wow. Like I wrote after last Saturday’s victory over San Diego State, we’ll know a lot more about this team after this month.

    Not that November’s any bargain. The Falcons play host to Army (which finally seems to have found the right fit at coach in Rich Ellerson) and what probably will be a desperate UNLV squad. And then they finish on the road at No. 20 BYU.

    I took a look at the upcoming schedule, Tim Jefferson’s status and Reggie Rembert’s awards for his play against San Diego State in my notebook that appears in today’s edition of The Gazette.

    Also, in addition to starting 0-4 and losing to New Mexico State, I’d add “head coach grabbing assistant coach and punching him” to the list of signs that it’s going to be a long season at New Mexico. Any time you read a story about a team and think, “Didn’t that happen in Oakland with the Raiders?” it’s not a good thing.

  • Monday Odds and Ends

    Mon, September 28, 2009 by admin with 4 comments

    Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun said after practice today that he has not yet decided upon a starter for Saturday’s game at Navy.

    However, he was encouraged that sophomore Tim Jefferson participated in practice. Jefferson started the Falcons’ first three games but missed last Saturday’s with an injured right ankle. Sophomore Connor Dietz played in his place.

    “Being able to practice, I think, is a good step forward,” Calhoun said of Jefferson. “Which I think you’ve got to do. I think this week the thing you’ve got to have is you’re going to have to have a good bit of practice work.”

    Calhoun said he wanted to make a decision on a starter by tomorrow but added, “I don’t think it’s an absolute.

    “I think any time you can do something a little bit sooner, then the more helpful it is. Just so those guys work. I just think it’s best for everybody to work as a unit as much as you can.”

    -Calhoun said he’d have a better idea about sophomore tailback Asher Clark (shoulder) on Tuesday. As for senior strong safety Chris Thomas (groin), Calhoun said: “I would think he goes. Goodness, yes.”

    -Air Force will depart for Maryland on Thursday after practice – a change from two years ago when the Falcons played at Navy and last season when they played at Army. Air Force traveled on Friday for both of those games.

    Calhoun said he wanted to leave a day early – as teams did for the Army and Navy games under former coach Fisher DeBerry – just so they had more time to get settled. And by leaving Thursday afternoon, they won’t miss any more class time than they would if they left Friday Morning.

    “Last year, in hindsight, was a mistake,” Calhoun said, referring to the trip to Army. “We had a noon (Eastern) kickoff at Army, and we left on Friday morning, and we just didn’t get there and get settled and have enough time. That was part of it. This year it’s a little bit later kickoff (at Navy, 3:30 eastern). But that’s still something you do recall from last year.”

    -The Mountain West Conference extended its agreement with the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl for the next four-year bowl term (2010-2013).

    The bowl will continue to get second choice of bowl-eligible MWC teams – the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas will continue to have the first selection.

    The MWC opponent in the bowl will come from the Western Athletic Conference except if Navy is bowl eligible in 2010 or if Army is bowl eligible in 2013.

  • USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Preseason Poll Released

    Mon, September 28, 2009 by admin with 1 comment

    The first major preseason poll of the 2009-10 hockey season – the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll – is out. Air Force missed the Top 15, but came in 19th with 43 points. The Falcons are rated ahead of Colorado College, which is earned eight points in the poll, same as Northeastern, its first opponent.

    Miami (Ohio), which lost in last season’s NCAA title game, is ranked No. 1 (457, four first-place votes) ahead of Denver (455, 13) and defending national champ Boston University (438, 12).