ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Army hired Jeff Monken as head football coach in part because of his reputation as a relentless, aggressive recruiter.
Monken made it clear the gloves were coming off in Army’s annual recruiting battle with archrival Navy when he went hard after a recruit that had already committed to the Annapolis academy.
Mike Martin, a standout running back at a high school located just 45 minutes from the West Point campus, had given Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo a verbal pledge on Jan. 17 after taking an official visit. The 6-foot, 190-pound product of Pine Bush (N.Y.) High posed for pictures in the home locker room at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium wearing a Navy jersey and talked about becoming part of the brotherhood.
However, Monken, a Navy assistant for six years during the tenure of head coach Paul Johnson, convinced Martin to take an official visit to West Point last weekend. Ultimately, the youngster, who rushed for 1,515 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior, signed with Navy.
There figures to be many more heavyweight battles to come between the archrivals now that Monken is at Army, but round one was a clear knockout for Navy and Niumatalolo. The Midshipmen landed 15 players that were also offered by the Black Knights. Sheldon Johnson, an offensive tackle at The Gilman School in Baltimore, is believed to be the only player to choose Army that also took an official visit to Navy.
Navy took advantage of the firing of head coach Rich Ellerson to snatch Army’s top recruit away. Jarvis Polu, a three-star prospect from Liberty High in Henderson, Nev., switched his commitment to Navy on Jan. 31 after taking an official visit. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end had major scholarship offers from such schools as Colorado State, San Diego State and Wisconsin, but originally committed to West Point because his father served in the Army.
Navy also received signed paperwork on Wednesday from 21 high school seniors who were also recruited heavily by Air Force. Two of those prospects, defensive backs Randy Beggs (Murietta, Calif.) and Chandler Hawkins (Carson, Calif.), had given verbal commitments to the Falcons before flipping to the Mids.
Niumatalolo isn’t the boastful sort and doesn’t like to throw fuel on the fire with regard to the heated recruiting wars with Army and Air Force, but he made it clear he thought Navy did well in that regard.
“We’re always going to battle the other two service academies. We got everyone we really wanted,” said the seventh-year head coach, who took particular pride that Navy signed nearly 90 percent of the players it brought in for official visits.
“Like all coaches, I feel very good about this recruiting class. Not only did we get some good football players, but these are all great kids. I’m impressed by the character of the young men we recruited,” Niumatalolo said.
One of the biggest and most sought after prospects to choose Navy was Trenton “Tiny” Noller, a 6-foot-3, 311-pound offensive lineman from Windsor High in Colorado. Noller reportedly had scholarship offers from Arizona, Georgia Tech and San Jose among others. Army recruited Noller, but Air Force did not until the Denver Post ran a story questioning why the Colorado Springs Academy would not show interest in a massive youngster from right down the road who was named All-Colorado.
Other Navy recruits who had significant scholarship offers include quarterback Tory Delmonico (Toledo), fullback Anthony Gargiulo (Connecticut), slotback Akili Taylor (Kent State), offensive lineman Evan Martin (Iowa State), offensive lineman Chibuzo Ukandu (Tulane), defensive lineman Kevin Uebelhardt (Nevada), defensive lineman Anthony Villalobos (SMU, Tulsa), outside linebacker Dylan Roney and inside linebacker Matt Stewart (multiple Mid-American Conference schools for both).
“We had a good amount of guys with a lot of other offers. We beat a lot of mid-major programs for good players,” Niumatalolo said.
Navy has posted winning records in 10 of the last 12 seasons and captured the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy eight times during that span. The Midshipmen received significant national exposure during the 2013 season, almost upsetting Notre Dame on national television, defeating Army for the 12th straight year with the contest drawing a television rating that was among the highest in college football then beating Middle Tennessee State in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
“As we continue to win people recognize our program. When we go into high schools and into homes, people know about Navy football. They understand that we are not a flash in the pan, that we have been as consistent as any program in the country,” Niumatalolo said.