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 Ha