ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Ralph Montalvo had shown tremendous promise as a plebe with the Navy football team, rising from the scout team to third string late in the season. Now the freshman quarterback is fighting for his life in a Miami hospital after being involved in a serious automobile accident on Thanksgiving night.
Montalvo remains in a medically-induced coma in the intensive care unit at Kendall Regional Medical Center and there is no timetable for when doctors will bring him out of it.
Montalvo was the passenger in a single-vehicle accident and suffered a severe head injury. Dr. Jeff Fair, the Navy football team trainer, has received medical reports on Montalvo’s condition and said the youngster did not sustain any other major injuries.
Fair said Montalvo ran a temperature on Sunday and doctors were worried about an infection, but none was found. Fair said the pressure on Montalvo’s brain increased on Monday and that was also a concern.
“I think they’re still pretty guarded,” Fair said when asked the assessment of attending physicians. “They don’t know how long they’re going to have to keep this induced. He’s going to be in the hospital for quite a while, I know that.”
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo told equipment manager Greg Morgenthaler to send Montalvo’s jersey for the Army-Navy game to Kendall Regional Medical Center and was hopeful it arrived late Monday.
“The doctors are doing the best they can. There’s nothing anyone else can do,” Niumatalolo said Monday as Navy resumed practice in preparation for its Dec. 8 matchup with archrival Army. “We’re all praying for him. It’s just a tough deal. You hope that he recovers quickly.”
Niumatalolo found out about the accident on Friday morning and flew to Miami on Saturday to visit Montalvo in the hospital and comfort the player’s family. Niumatalolo was told that Montalvo has a long road to recovery and there will likely be ups and downs.
“When I went on Saturday he was doing well. He took a slight turn (for the worse) today and didn’t do as well,’’ Niumatalolo said.
Several Navy football players that live in the Fort Lauderdale-Miami area, including linebacker Vinnie Mauro, nose guard Travis Bridges, defensive end Danny Ring and slotback Ryan Williams-Jenkins, made the trek to Kendall Regional Medical Center over the weekend.
“I’ve been impressed by our players that went to visit. It was a cool thing to see the brotherhood in action, guys taking time out of their Thanksgiving break to drive down there to see him,” Niumatalolo said.
Montalvo, who goes by the nickname Rafi, is a 2011 graduate of Miami’s La Salle High, where he lettered in football, track and field and lacrosse. The 6-foot, 195-pounder earned honorable mention All-State honors in football and was selected as team Most Valuable Player as a senior.
Montalvo, whose father — also named Ralph — played football at the University of Miami, spent the 2011-2012 academic year at the Naval Academy Prep School.
Montalvo spent most of this season on the scout team, but was elevated to third string when sophomore John Hendrick got injured. Hendrick has since returned to practice and been reinstated to the depth chart, but Montalvo was scheduled to travel and dress for the Army-Navy game.
“Rafi was doing some good things and we were excited about him,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s just a great kid. I sent him over to scout team last week, but they had enough quarterbacks. So he offered to play wide-out, said he would do whatever we asked. That’s the kind of young man he is.”
Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper directly coaches the quarterbacks and said Montalvo has a lot of ability. Jasper, who always drew a laugh from the youngster by calling him by his given name Jose, said Montalvo “always has a smile on his face.”
“He’s just been a pleasure to have. He’s a hard worker, comes from a great family and a strong high school program. He was making strides — learning and doing some good things,” Jasper said. “It’s tough. It’s unfortunate. We’re struggling here. He’s such a great kid. You hate to see something like that happen to good people. Everything happens for a reason. The good Lord has a plan for him. He’s going to pull through.”
Niumatalolo was told by family members that Montalvo and a friend were going to a nearby McDonald’s to get something to eat. They were in a neighborhood that was not well lit and it was also foggy that night. Police believe the driver made a wrong turn and thought he was on the main thoroughfare when in fact he was on a dead-end road. The single-vehicle accident was the result of hitting a house at the end of that street.
Starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds said he received a phone call from Jasper on Friday informing him about Montalvo and said the news “just broke my heart.” The two freshmen were stretch partners for games and routinely walked to team meetings together.
“It’s tragic. Rafi is a hard worker and a great guy. I didn’t know him long, but I can tell you he was a good guy to be around,” Reynolds said. “I just feel for Rafi and his family. My prayers go out to them. We’re all thinking about him daily.”
Reynolds said the reaction among players was one of shock and disbelief, along with the realization that such an unfortunate accident could happen to anyone at any time.
“It’s definitely a shock, but we realize that’s life. Things happen in life that you can’t control, you can’t see coming,” Reynolds said. “You have to be thankful for all the good things we have here, to be able to attend the Naval Academy and play football because it can be taken away in a heartbeat.”
Reynolds said the Navy football players held a prayer vigil for Montalvo upon return to the academy on Sunday. He said team leaders told everyone to stick together and keep Montalvo in their thoughts and prayers.
“We’re out here working hard and grinding, but we think about Rafi and how he would love to be out here with us,” he said. “It has brought us closer as a team. We’re going to grow and get better because of this.”