Photo: Jamale Carothers
#AFAN (Air Force/Army/Navy) stories: My series is about more than academy football players. These stories are about future officers selflessly committed to serving their country during a seemingly endless war on terrorism. There are only 0.5 percent Americans making up the military. Throughout our history Cadets and Midshipmen have answered the call to serve in times of war, but this is a generation of volunteers.
“I get to work daily with heroes that joined the military AFTER we were attacked on 9/11, AFTER the war started in Afghanistan and AFTER the war started in Iraq. I would like to think I’m that brave, but I’m not so sure."
-- Phil McConkey, 1979 Navy grad and New York Giants Super Bowl champion
By TOM SHANAHAN
The sudden stardom of Navy fullback Jamale Carothers has been described as “surprising” and an “eye-opener.” Here are two better words: "unsinkable" and “unfazed.”
Unfazed by a lack of Power 5 scholarship offers that came his way out of Bowling Green High in Kentucky, especially after the numbers he put up his senior year in 2016. He ran for 1,410 yards with 27 touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 884 yards and 11 more scores.
Carothers had committed to Navy the summer before his senior year, so that tempered offers. But even after he collected awards by the bushel – he was Kentucky’s 2016 Gatorade High School State Player of the Year, leading his team to the Class 5-A state title – he didn’t draw much interest.
“I felt like Navy was the best fit for me for school, football and afterward,” he said. “I have the best opportunity to be successful coming here. I wasn’t disappointed about not hearing from bigger schools. I felt this would work out."
Unfazed, even though Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm called his high school coach following the 2016 season. Brohm had been the head coach at Western Kentucky, located in Bowling Green, until Purdue hired him Dec. 15, 2016. Also putting in a call to Carothers' high school coach was Brohm’s WKU successor, Mike Sanford.
“Jeff Brohm and Mike Sanford were trying to get me,” Carothers said, “but I didn’t talk with anybody after I committed.”
Unfazed committing to Navy, although it meant spending 2017 at the Naval Academy Prep School to gain admission to Annapolis, an academically elite institution.
"I talked to other players on my recruiting trip (to Annapolis)," he said. "They said it was the best decision they ever made. You're a leader among leaders here.”
Unsinkable he spent his Navy freshman year in 2018 on the JV squad as an A-back (slot back). Unsinkable he was moved to fullback in the off-season yet spent time on the JV squad early in 2019. He wasn’t on the travel squad when Navy suffered its only loss to date, Sept. 26 at Memphis.
“I knew I’d get my shot,” Carothers said. “I was learning the position and was adjusting to doing all the right things so I’d be ready when I got my shot.”
Well, he certainly has been ready.
Carothers has scored seven touchdowns in the last two games and nine in the last four – eight rushing, one receiving. After not playing against East Carolina, Memphis and Air Force, Carothers has been on a roll:
--- Navy 45, Tulsa 17: Carried five times for 52 yards and a 19-yard touchdown run.
--- Navy 35, USF 3: Nine for 84 and a score on a 67-yard run.
--- Navy 41, Tulane 38: 14 for 154 with three rushing TDs (52, 35 and 15) and one catch for a 31-yard score.
--- Navy 56, Connecticut 10: In Carothers' first career start, he had eight for 65 and three touchdowns (13, 23 and 6).
With the sudden production and explosion plays, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo wasn’t above chiding himself, explaining the coaches should have moved him earlier.
“Quite frankly it took us longer than we needed to move him to fullback,” Niumatalolo said. “He was a good player at A back, it’s just at the lines were longer and he was younger. We were trying to identity guys. We moved him and he continued to work hard. He’s a guy with work ethic. The things that he did were with limited reps he got. We gave him more things to do in the offensive package and he did really well. He’s come a long way. He’s played unbelievably for us.”
Carothers, a 5-foot-9, 203-pounder, has climbed to third on the team in rushing yards and second in yards per game. Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry has 1,042 yards and 16 touchdowns (130.2) and senior fullback Nelson Smith has 505 and seven TDs (63.1). Carothers has 36 carries for 355 yards with eight scores. He’s averaging 71.0 yards a game and a team-leading 9.9 per game.
When Niumatalolo speaks of the package, Carothers, who played in high school as a single-back in a spread offense, has added a receiving threat to playing fullback, a position normally limited to dives and blocking in the triple-option offense. He has two catches for 57 yards.
Smith, the starting fullback the first seven games, doesn't have a catch this season. In 2018, Smith didn't have a catch in eight games and senior fullback Anthony Gargiulo had one catch for six yards in 13 games.
Carothers has proven any doubters wrong, but apparently there is no “I told you so” in him.
“I’m just happy to take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to me,” he said. “The offensive line has been blocking tremendously.”
Purdue, located in West Lafayette, Ind., will never know what it missed out on with Carothers, but another school located in South Bend, Ind., has Carothers' name circled in its defensive game plan.
The Midshipmen (7-1) play Saturday at Notre Dame (7-2). As it has developed, they renew their series dating to 1927 as Top 25 teams. Navy debuted this season at No. 25 after beating Connecticut on Nov. 2 and moved to No. 21 in the latest rankings after a bye week. Notre Dame is No. 16, dropping a spot after beating Duke 38-7 on Saturday night in Durham, N.C.
“It’s a great feeling to see our hard work pay off,” Carothers said of the ranking. “But we can’t get lost in it. We still have games the rest of the season, and we have to make sure we take care of those games.”
Does anything faze this guy?
Well, maybe the chance to play at storied Notre Dame Stadium. That brought out a hint of bravado in him.
“It’s a great opportunity and we’re excited for this game,” he said. “All of my teammates want to do our best and show everybody what type of team we really are.”
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”