Goosebumps! That's what my wife and I felt as we drove over the Chesapeake Bay in late August. From the bridge we could see the buildings of the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland's historic capital city of Annapolis which is only about 30 miles east of Washington D.C. The view was absolutely stunning.
A full uniformed midshipman at the entrance was on guard duty. He directed us to the visitors center which was adjacent to Ricketts Hall, home to the Navy football and strength and conditioning programs. Ricketts Hall has just gone through an $8 million renovation. To say the least, it was most impressive.
Strength Coach Phil Emery was giving the freshman football players clear, concise directions before their in-season workout. He sounded like a football coach. I liked his style as he gave a final charge to workout correctly and with intensity.
Coach Emery coached hard every minute. He and his assistants were making every effort to help these young plebes lift with correct technique. After the lifting session, Coach Emery gave them a final charge. I said to myself, "Wow! This man is good."
Coach Emery was the captain of his high school football, basketball and track teams. He was voted the school's most valuable athlete during his senior year. He earned three varsity letters as an offensive guard at Wayne State University, was team captain in 1980 and an all-league selection that same year. Coach Emery earned a B.S. Degree at Wayne State and a Masters from Western New Mexico University. From there, he coached at the college level for six years at three different colleges. Coach Emery also served double-duty as the strength and conditioning coach at these colleges.
In 1987, Coach Emery decided that his passion was with strength and conditioning. He joined Bruno Pauletto as his assistant at the University of Tennessee and also became extensively involved in the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). Coach Emery became Navy's head Strength and Conditioning Coach in 1991 and has designed programs to meet the needs of the Naval Academy's 29 intercollegiate sports (20 men-9 women). In addition, he is the advance travel coordinator for all away football contests. This year that means six including the Notre Dame game in Ireland.
Coach Emery has authored numerous publications, presentations and appointments by the NSCA. He also has participated in many football and strength camps. However, his crowning achievement is the Naval Academy's new weight training facilities. While at Tennessee, Emery participated in the design, organization and purchasing of equipment for the 11,000 square foot Volunteer's facility. That experience proved to be invaluable. The U.S. Naval Academy's strength and conditioning facility is an exercise in perfection.
The main strength and conditioning room has 10,920 square feet of usable space, 200 for office and 1,200 square feet for storage space. Revenues of $650,000 were appropriated by the U.S. Congress. There are a total of 269 custom designed and built pieces, 32 custom Power Bars, 42,000 pounds of custom Olympic Plates with the logo "BEAT ARMY" cast on 522 45-lb. plates and 15,000 pounds of solid dumbbells. I was dazzled by the twelve 9'6" Power Racks, twelve 8X8 custom Clean Platforms and twelve auto-spoting multi-angle Bench Presses. In back of the Power Racks were twelve 9'6" Smith Machines. Sorinex Equipment provided the strength training equipment.
A huge variety of machines, aerobic, sprint and plyometric equipment were also included. Coach Emery beamed with satisfaction. "I love this place. This is my end goal. It speaks of excellence. Our whole purpose of training is to win. Everything we do is geared to the team. I don't have individual motivational awards. I believe football is a team game. Everyone is to make themselves into their best possible self for the sake of the team. We feel with our new facilities that we have made a statement that we are committed to excellence; committed to playing and competing with Division-I teams."
I like positive people but I still wasn't convinced. My comment when I first saw the freshmen was where are the D-I players? I did not see a Division-I body among the sixty some freshmen. Coach Emery smiled, "Wait until you see my varsity players."
I responded, "But you can't even redshirt these kids. Plus, I looked at your varsity roster. Only 45% of your varsity players are over 6-feet tall. You must like a challenge." Coach Emery smiled again and invited me to take a tour of the Naval Academy before the varsity came to practice.
We walked across the hall to the Staubach Locker Room which can house up to 151 players. The room, of course, is named after Dallas Cowboy great, Roger Staubach, who was the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner for Navy. Next, I was shown Bellino Auditorium which holds 150 and is used for staff and team meetings. The room is replete with the latest video/computer presentation gadgetry and is named after Navy's 1960 Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Bellino.
The football offices were on the second floor of the $8 million Ricketts Hall renovation project. Charlie Weatherbie, only in his second year as the Navy head football coach, had his office over-looking, what else, Chesapeake Bay. Well, actually Spa Creek and Severn River which joins the Chesapeake Bay. I knew Charlie when he took Utah State University three years ago to their first Big West Championship in 15 years and their first bowl game in 32 years which was also their first bowl victory in history. Navy hired Coach Weatherbie anticipating similar results.
The Washington Post wrote, "Coach Weatherbie has earned the undying love of his players from the very start, sending his assistants to class with them so that the staff would be certain to understand just what kind of pressures the players would endure off the field." The Baltimore Sun added, "Coach Weatherbie fired up the whole academy. His impact was so positive, he received a standing ovation walking through the dining hall." But what about the lack of size? Coach Weatherbie has implanted the following popular slogan into every midshipman's brain: "It's not the size of the dog that matters but the size of the fight of the dog."
Last year Navy finished with a 5-6 record which was their best since 1990. The Midhsipmen went from 102nd in scoring defense to 17th in the nation; from 107th in rushing offense to 7th in the nation and they were 18th nationally in total defense. Navy set seven school records in 1995 and had a second team All-America in junior cornerback Sean Andrews who did not even get into a game the previous year. Five opponents were held to under 100 yards rushing.
Will Navy's rich heritage be revived? They have had 29 first team All-America's, 17 National Football Foundaton & Hall of Fame Inductees, 4 Maxwell Trophy Winners and were National Football Champions in 1926. They rank 26th among Division I schools with 554 victories and a winning percentage of .556 which includes 264 shutouts. However, times have been tougher in recent years. It has been 15 years since Navy has won the Commander in Chief's Trophy (Navy must beat both Army and Air Force in the same year). They have only beaten Army and Air Force once in the last five years previous to 1996.
Scott Runyon, receivers coach, had his office down the hall. It was great seeing Scott again. He was our 1981 National Bigger Faster Stronger Athlete of the Year. Right outside the locker room is a synthetic turf practice field and there practicing was the famous Naval Academy Band which was originally formed in 1852. Just beyond this field is the main practice field which uses natural turf. As we continued the tour, we next came to Bancroft Hall which contains 1,873 midshipmen rooms, nearly five miles of corridors and about 33 acres of floor space. There are only 4,000 midhsipmen at Navy at any one time and this number is called a Brigade which is made up of 88% men, 12% women and three wild and crazy linebackers.
Midshipmen are required to participate in varsity sports or any 12 intramural or 14 club sports. There are 500 intercollegiate contests each year. This takes a lot of facilities. Coach Emery showed me each one. The Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium which seats 30,000 fans, Halsey Field House which hosts many indoor sports and seats more than 5,000, Alumni Hall which is a $30 million brigade activities center dedicated in 1991, Lejeune Hall which boasts an Olympic-size pool and diving facility plus a wrestling arena, a 400-meter outdoor synthetic track, an 18-hole golf course, a recently renovated boathouse and a 5,000-seat clubhouse dedicated in 1995.
Included in these marvelous facilities are four other strength and conditioning rooms each with a specific function. For example, one is open 24 hours per day. Then Coach Emery showed me the old football strength room. It had a low ceiling with only 2,800 square feet as pictured in this article. Coach Emery laughed at the difference, "We really had to be organized to get everyone through their workout but now things are different. We can now show recruits our physical facilities and be on equal footing with anyone. Then it gets down to talking about Navy and we have academic excellence. Academically, we have higher standards than the other service academies and we give our graduates more career choices. We also have a great history in a historical town."
The last stop before the varsity practice was the new Naval Academy Visitors Center. First on the agenda was to see the award-winning film "To Lead and To Serve." It made a lasting impression on me. I learned that the Naval Academy was established in 1845 and now occupies 338 acres of land. The academy offers majors in 18 subject areas: eight in engineering; six in science and mathematics, including computer science; and four in the humanities and social science.
More than 11,000 applications for admittance are received each year and of these only 1,100 are selected. Ninety percent of these plebes were active in high school varsity sports and 80 percent were in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class. More than 75 percent successfully complete their four-year Naval Academy program and begin their chosen career as Navy ensigns or Marine Corps second lieutenants.
It was finally time for football practice which was only one week before the first game which they won 10-6 against Rutgers. Coach Emery was on duty the entire time. First, he was in charge of warm-up drills on the synthetic turf field. After about 15 minutes, the team moved to the natural turf practice field. There, Coach Emery conditioned those that were injured. During this time, he told me about many of the players. "See that tackle. He came in as a quarterback. He's gained 60 pounds and runs a 4.6 forty. And that one over there, he's up 40 pounds." As he kept describing the stunning gains, I gained more and more respect for Coach Emery's program and the great young men trying to meet the challenge of making themselves into Division-I players.
After football practice, Coach Emery conducted sprint drills with the team and then it was time for their in-season weight training workout. As we walked off the practice field, I asked, "What's your secret on the players gaining so much solid weight?"
Besides the hard work and regular diet, the answer was in Emery's storage room. I had wondered why he needed 1200 square feet. I was amazed. Coach Emery has a $100,000 annual food supplement budget. "Gotta store it someplace," grinned Coach Emery.
The team had an intense 45-minute core lift type workout: Squats, Hang Cleans, Straight-Leg-Dead-Lifts and Benches. Coach Emery has over 30 players who Hang Clean 300 or more. There was no screwing around. It was a no-nonsense, lift hard, lift correct, get-after-it type of workout. During this time, I was privileged to talk to those three wild and crazy linebackers: Team Co-Captain Clint Bruce, Travis Cooley, and Jason Coffey.
Jason is a 5'11", 227 lb. Junior from Baton Rouge, Louisiana majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Jason didn't know it, but I'd first met him when he was 13 years old at the Junior Olympic National Championships in Florida. My son, Matt, won his weight class and Jason won his. Jason learned his Olympic lifts from Gayle Hatch who is perhaps the best youth Olympic Coach in America. Evidence of this can be seen in Jason's 420-pound Hang Clean. Pound-for-pound Jason is the strongest player in Navy history.
I asked Jason, "What is the key to training?" He answered, "Persistence is the key. You can't just do one phase of training. You have also got to be there for everything. Coach Emery says that you can Clean the house, but if you can't shed a blocker, it's not good! You must also be able to think under pressure."
Travis is also a Junior and is a Political Science major. He is from Ashland, Oregon and stands 5'11" and weighs 232 lbs. We hit it off because I also grew up in Oregon and coached against his Ashland High School team years ago. Travis comes very close to Jason's strength so they make great training partners. He Hang Cleans 385 pounds!
I asked Travis about how he and the other Midshipmen felt about drugs and alcohol. "We get tested three times per year at school," he answered. "Overall, compared to anyplace else in the country, drug and alcohol abuse or use at Navy is way low. Football-wise, we watch out for each other. It's not a factor. I never drank in high school. It's just not worth it to waste all that training. I've invested too much to blow it on something stupid.
Clint is a senior from Garland, Texas majoring in Economics. He is 6'0", 238 lbs and led the Mids in tackles last season with 117. This is his third year as a starter and he will have four varsity letters after this season. We were both excited to meet because Clint was a BFS High School All-American at South Garland High School. Clint could have gone to a number of major colleges in spite of being short but he had his sights set on the Naval Academy. Coach Weatherbie said, "Clint is one of those guys who gets glassy-eyed before the game. There is just no other way to say it. He is all football player."
I found Clint, as I got to know him, to be a wonderful example of our Five BFS Power Axioms for Success. Power Axiom #1 is to establish a unified team goal. "This senior season means everything to me," Clint said. "We want to make history and leave the academy with its best football record in 13 years."
Power Axiom #2 is working at an eleven rate on a scale of one to ten. One word describes Clint and that is relentless. Power Axiom #3 is to keep your eye single to the glory of achieving your goals. There are no problems, only challenges. Problems are what you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
Clint is always smiling so you can't help but notice that one of his front teeth is missing. I asked him if he had a false one to put in and he told me that he wasn't going to get one for awhile. He grinned a wide grin. "I want my opponents to think I'm a little crazy." Hey, Clint, old buddy, no argument here.
The truth is Clint got hit by a drunk driver a few months before his Sophomore year. His face slammed into the steering wheel collapsing the left side of his jaw. It took five hours of reconstructive surgery to save all but one of his teeth. Clint was told that he would be on a liquid diet while his jaw was wired shut for six weeks. However, this was not acceptable for Clint. Football was coming up and he just couldn't lose weight. You guessed it. He figured out a way to outsmart the doctor and meet the challenge.
"I carried around a hand blender," Clint said. "When I went to restaurants all I had to do was find an outlet, plug it in and hand blend my chicken fried steak. People would be looking at me like I was crazy." No kidding, Clint.
Well, you gotta love the guy. Power Axiom #4 is to "Play the Song you Came on Earth to Play." Football is Clint's song for now but soon he will join the Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, a special forces unit that specializes in anti-terrorism activity. "I identify a lot with the Marine Corps," Clint said. "Shoot, I get to run and blow things up and get paid for it. I get to run in the mud and not shower much."
Power Axiom #5 is to help others in mind, body and spirit achieve their dreams and goals. Clint talked about Jason and Travis. "They're both as aggressive and as crazy as I am." Clint is the oldest male in his family and after the death of his father during his senior year, Clint felt his father's role of caretaker had been passed to him.
I hope you, the reader, don't just laugh at Clint's remark about getting to blow things up and getting paid for it. What he will be doing is putting his life on the line for you, me and every American. That's what every graduate of the Naval Academy will provide. The highest commitment of service in preserving freedom for our nation and many other peoples around the world. A freedom to reach our potential. A freedom to play our song...the song that God intended for us to play.
Finally, I asked Clint what it means to him to lead and to serve. He got totally serious this time and I listened carefully. "To lead is being what you are supposed to be. You do everything you are supposed to do and you do it right. You can be loud or quiet. It doesn't matter. To serve is to put someone else, team, or in our case, our country first and to do your job. In football, for example the job of the defensive line is to take a block without recognition. They save my life...they serve me."
I thank Coach Weatherbie and especially Phil Emery. Everything about the Naval Academy is Upper Limit. As I crossed over the bridge and the Chesapeake and headed for home, I wondered if Coach Emery thought whether or not if he was able to convince me about Navy football being a Division-I contender. As I pondered that question, it went beyond that. I thought about my ten-year old son and how great it would be if one day he could qualify to be a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.