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Navy's returning starter Keoni-Kordell Makekau opted out due to coronavirus concerns

Keoni-Kordell Makekau runs a play during the 120th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 14, 2019.

JAMES HARVEY/U.S. ARMY

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: August 29, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — Keoni-Kordell Makekau had every intention of suiting up for his senior season at Navy this fall.

When the Naval Academy announced it would not bring the Brigade of Midshipmen back from spring break in March, Makekau remained at his home in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, and went to work.

While the coronavirus spread like wildfire through the mainland United States, it was almost a non-factor on the island of Oahu. Positive tests were few and far between during the months of April, May and June.

"During the time I was at home in Hawaii I had a lot of time to prepare for the season. Oahu hardly had any cases, so I was training hard for Notre Dame," he said. "I tested when I got back here and was actually the strongest and fastest that I've ever been."

Makekau returned to Maryland in early July along with all the Navy football players to begin a two-week quarantine process prior to the start of strength and conditioning workouts. Upon arrival in Annapolis, the standout slotback suddenly realized the reality of COVID-19.

"I came back to the academy and it was an eye opener," Makekau told The Capital this week. "Coming back to this area and seeing how many cases there were, I was stunned to be honest."

Makekau confirmed this week he voluntary opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about coronavirus. Although slated to start for the Midshipmen this season, the multi-talented slotback chose safety over football.

"It's a new virus and we don't know right now what it can do. Seeing how fast it can spread is crazy," Makekau said. "At that point, I just felt the risk was too high and life is just too precious."

Makekau said his decision was because of outbreaks that caused other college football programs to shut down activities. He recognized the Naval Academy could create a rather effective "bubble," but worried about what would happen once the season got underway.

"I just didn't feel comfortable with playing, especially traveling to places like Texas and Florida," he said.

Makekau is set to graduate in May 2021 and is hoping for a career as a surface warfre officer. He is majoring in general engineering and focused on finishing strong in terms of academic and military responsibilities.

"I have a future I need to prepare for, and football was so low on my priority list when it came to that," he said. "I didn't feel like risking my health out there on the field was worth it."

Makekau started six games last season and accounted for 387 yards from scrimmage (212 rushing and 175 receiving). The smooth 5-foot-11, 175-pounder established a career-high with 101 rushing yards against Memphis and authored numerous big plays over the course of the season.

Nicknamed 2K by teammates, Makekau broke loose for a career-long 41-yard run at Memphis and caught a career-best 60-yard pass versus Houston. He averaged more than 11 yards per touch.

Professional football is not in the picture for Makekau, so this season would have been his last on the gridiron. Now, it's gone.

"It was hard because I've been playing football since I was a baby. Growing up in Hawaii, you learn to finish whatever you start," he said. "From that standpoint, that made this decision very difficult. I just felt this case was very different from any other situation."

Makekau also looked at the broader picture of how many people have been impacted by the pandemic.

"People all over the world are dealing with the effects of this virus," he said. "Personally, I felt having a football season while we're trying to get rid of this disease just didn't seem right."

More on Morris

Navy slotback Myles Fells knew Dalen Morris was serious about seizing the starting quarterback position when they communicated from April through June. Morris was back home in Alabama, while Fells was two states away in Arkansas.

"Dalen Morris has come to play with a vengeance. I knew that from the way I saw him train during the offseason," Fells said. "Dalen would be telling me he was working out almost every day and squatting 405 pounds. It was 100 degrees down there and he's running a mile in a sweat suit with weights on."

Upon return to the Naval Academy, Morris was always looking for wide receivers and slotbacks to catch his passes – working to build chemistry. Whenever Fells had free time, he would text Morris.

"Ocho, what time do you want to meet?" Fells would ask.

"Rip Miller [Field] in 30 minutes. Be there," Morris would reply.

Morris has not let up one bit since being elevated to the top of the depth chart. He's asked to be challenged daily, according to offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper.

"I asked Dalen what he wants to see in practice, and he said: Put more pressure on me to make sure I'm ready," Jasper said.

At 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, Morris is one of the bigger, stronger quarterbacks to play in Navy's triple-option system. That is a similar body type to past starters such as Ricky Dobbs, Zach Abey and Will Worth, all of whom were inside runners that did most of their damage between the tackles.

"Dalen's a lot more athletic than a Zach Abey or a Will Worth. He can do a lot more things than they can on the perimeter," Jasper said.

Jasper did compare Morris favorably to Dobbs in terms of throwing ability. Dobbs passed for 1,537 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior in 2010, both of which were records for the current triple-option era (2002 to present).

Early indications are that Navy plans to throw the ball more often with Morris under center.

"Having a guy with the ability to throw it gives us more piece of mind," Jasper said. "It's going to help us as an offense because we have a quarterback back there that can throw the ball exceptionally."

Morris has set a simple goal for himself this season.

"I just want to see myself lead the team in a positive way. I want my legacy to be as a guy who was a great teammate, a guy everyone could look to with confidence when we're in a crunch time situation," he said.

Fan fest

Annapolis area Chick-fil-A and Papa John's franchises are serving as supporting sponsors of the Navy Football Virtual Fan Fest, which will be held Sunday.

A series of events will begin at 4 p.m., including performances by the Naval Academy Drum and Bugle Corps and the cheerleading squad along with a trivia contest and crab race. Pete Medhurst, radio voice of Navy athletics, will conduct interviews with quarterback Dalen Morris, slotback Myles and linebacker Diego Fagot.

Navy fans should check on all of the Navy athletics social channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube – throughout the event and are encouraged to like, share and comment on posts for a chance to win Navy prize packs.

There is still time to submit a recipe for our crowdsourced Navy football tailgate cookbook. Fans can email their recipes to navyathleticsmarketing@gmail.com.

Season opener

ESPN has announced its top broadcasting team will work the Navy-Brigham Young season opener on Labor Day. Rece Davis will handle play-by-play with Kirk Herbstreit providing color commentary and Allison WIlliams serving as sideline reporter.

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