More Navy Football Players are Choosing to Join the Marines

Navy quarterback Zach Abey (9) rushes for yardage on Nov. 10 against Central Florida. Abey, along with 15 of his teammates, will soon be serving in the Marine Corps.  (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Navy quarterback Zach Abey (9) rushes for yardage on Nov. 10 against Central Florida. Abey, along with 15 of his teammates, will soon be serving in the Marine Corps. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

When Robert Green played football at Navy from 1994 through 1996, not many of his teammates were choosing the Marine Corps as a post-graduate career.

When Lieutenant Colonel Green returned to the Naval Academy to serve as Director of Player Development for the football program, not much had changed. A large majority of Navy football players were still selecting surface warfare, aviation or some other field.

Six years later, the tide has turned big-time.

Navy has 34 football seniors this season and 16 of them have received Marine Corps as a service assignment. Travis Kerchner will train to become a Marine Corps pilot, but the other 15 all selected Marine Corps Ground.

Green, who spent two years in an administrative support role before being promoted to an on-field coach, is heartened that so many football players are seeing the value of the service he swears by.

"I do take a lot of pride in the surge of Navy football players going Marine Corps," said Green, now in his fourth season as the program's secondary coach. "It was a goal of mine and Gunnery Sergeant Owens to tell the story of the Marines and recruit players into the Corps."

Timothy Owens served as Assistant Director of Player Development for Navy football for five years and along with Green was an important mentor to many of the Class of 2019 football players. Both officers felt certain the Marine Corps was the perfect fit for young men who had just spent four years operating selflessly as part of a team.

"I think the Marine Corps is a natural progression for these guys. They are taught to grind as Navy football players and that same mentality is needed as a Marine," Green said. "Marines pride themselves on being tough, physical and disciplined. Those are the exact traits you find in a Navy football player."

It is said there is no such thing as a former Marine. The proper term is Marine Corps retired. That's because you always remain a Marine at heart and Green embodies that spirit, despite hanging up the uniform when he was hired as an assistant by head coach Ken Niumatalolo.

Green, a 1998 graduate of the academy, served 20 years in the Marine Corps -- mostly as a logistics officer. He served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq among numerous other far-flung locations. The Atlanta native was highly-decorated, earning a handful of medals for meritorious service.

MARINE CORPS MENTORS

Green is not the only retired or active Marine Corps officer currently involved with Navy football. Wide receivers coach Mick Yokitis and Director of Football Operations Brian Blick are also products of that branch of the service.

Captain Michael Walsh, a former Navy football player just like Blick and Yokitis, is the current Director of Player Development. Staff Sergeant Julian Orozco-Colorado, the assistant director of player development, is another Marine. So is Colonel Jeffrey Smitherman, the officer representative for Navy football.

"We have a lot of Marine Corps mentors around here and I just love how they handle things in a business-like manner and how they keep everyone together," Navy starting slotback Tre Walker said. "I would say the overall atmosphere and type of people are what led me to choose Marine Corps. It's a lot like the brotherhood we have with football except in a slightly different aspect."

Five former Navy football players serving as graduate assistants while on temporary assignment duty at the academy will soon begin their Marine Corps training. They are Micah Thomas, Darryl Bonner, Seth White, D.J. Palmore and Brandon Jones.

"I definitely think the Marine Corps is the logical carryover for these players. I'm biased, but I think out of all the service selections it's the closest thing to Navy football," Walsh said. "It's the same tough mindset as well as the same general structure."

Capt. Walsh explained that platoons are very much like the position groups within a football team and the head coach is basically the equivalent of a company commander. A typical Division I football team is approximately the same size as a Marine Corps company.

"The Marine Corps is all about physical fitness and mental toughness and all these guys possess those two characteristics," said Walsh, who served as a platoon commander and battery commander before being assigned to the academy. "I think a lot of Navy football players want to be challenged. Service-wise, they are seeking just what the Marine Corps offers."

In 2013 and 2014, a total of 16 Navy football players (eight each year) elected to go Marine Corps. That number increased to 11 in 2015 and has been on the rise ever since. This year's crop of candidates brings to 59 the total number of football players from the last four graduating classes to choose the Marine Corps.

Coach Green recalls that slotback Marcus Thomas was the football player who really got the ball rolling among the 2014 graduates. Linebacker Joe Worth was the driving force the following year while team captain Bernie Sarra spearheaded the movement among the Class of 2016. Standout quarterback Will Worth led the charge of 18 football players into the Marine Corps a year ago.

"This campaign has begun to take on a life of its own," Green said. "It's gotten to the point that I've come to expect the toughest guys on the team will go Marine. It is an attitude that is starting to feed itself."

It makes sense that many of Navy's leading tacklers in recent years -- notably inside linebackers Micah Thomas (2016, 2017), Jordan Drake (2014) and Cody Peterson (2013) along with safety Lorentez Barbour (2015) -- became Marines.

Wide receivers Tyler Carmona and Jamir Tillman, both of whom led the team in catches and were also known as bone-crunching blockers, are currently in the Marine Corps.

"Automatically, without a doubt, if a linebacker chooses to go Navy I have to question that. Same goes for the quarterbacks and fullbacks. Those are all tough guys that belong in the Marine Corps," Green said.

So Green was not surprised to see current starting quarterback Zach Abey, starting fullback Anthony Gargiulo and starting inside linebackers Hudson Sullivan and Taylor Heflin all select Marine Corps Ground.

"I think that's the nature of who our kids are and what they're all about. We have tough kids who are great Americans," said head coach Ken Niumatalolo, emphasizing that every job in the military is difficult and challenging.

Navy Football Players Going Marine Corps:

Zach Abey, Lance Angulo, Tory Delmonico, Cameron Dudeck, Buck Elliott, Anthony Gargiulo, Juan Hailey, Taylor Heflin, Alec Keener, Travis Kerchner, Brady Petersen, Jarvis Polu, Jarid Ryan, Steve Satchell, Hudson Sullivan and Tre Walker.

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This article is written by Bill Wagner from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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