Special experience for Navy's local players and their parents
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: November 17, 2018
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) -- They cross paths at airports and run into each other in hotels all over the country.
They can be spotted waiting outside the Navy locker room after games, whether home or away.
They have provided unfailing moral and mental support for the last five years.
That is why Senior Day is going to be every bit as emotional for the parents of Zach Abey, Jake Hawk and Jarid Ryan as it will be for the players themselves.
"This has been an amazing journey. I can't thank Jarid enough to allowing me to be part of it all," Sharrone Ryan said. "I've been very emotional for the last few days with service selection and Senior Day coming in the same week. I'm so overwhelmed with joy. This has been an awesome experience and I'm just so grateful to have a wonderful son like Jarid."
Navy will honor its 34 seniors during a pre-game ceremony prior to playing Tulsa in the home finale at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Don and Jeanne Abey know they will have tears in their eyes as they escort Zach onto the field for the last time.
"It's been a fun and exciting ride. It's hard to believe that it's going to be over with soon," Jeanne Abey said. "To have your son play football for Navy is very special."
John Hawk served 20 years in the United States Army and met his wife while stationed in Panama. Hawk's last tour of duty took him to Fort Meade and he still works on base doing contract work now that he has retired.
Despite that strong Army connection, John and Nadgee Hawk have become diehard Navy fans ever since the youngest of their three sons committed to play football there.
"It's been a great five years if you count the prep school. I can't believe it's almost over. Those five years have really flown by," Nadgee Hawk said. "Honestly, it's been one of the best times of our lives. We are really going to miss being part of the Navy football family."
It is a real rarity that three Anne Arundel County products would be part of the same Navy football recruiting class. Hawk committed first then was joined by Abey, who had originally given a verbal to Buffalo. Ryan was a late addition, earning an offer just prior to National Signing Day in 2014 after Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper saw him play basketball.
All three local boys attended the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island, during the 2014-2015 school year. They had read about each other in the Capital Gazette newspaper and got to know each other very well during that year at NAPS.
"It's been a great bonding experience with Jake and Zach with us all being local guys," Ryan said. "We were familiar with each other coming in so we hit it off right away. We've become a real tight-knit group."
Zach Abey remembers being impressed by Ryan's athletic ability and ball skills while competing in seven-on-seven tournaments during the summer. Abey was the starting quarterback for Archbishop Spalding while Ryan was the top cornerback for Severn School.
"I got to know Jake through different all-star games we were both involved with. I knew Jarid from playing seven-on-seven against Severn," Abey said. "I think our relationship has always been strong. We've got that Anne Arundel connection so we hit it off right from the get-go."
John and Nadgee Hawk first met Don and Jeanne Abey at the 2014 Touchdown Club of Annapolis football awards banquet. Abey received the Jim Rhodes Trophy as the Most Outstanding Player in Anne Arundel County while Hawk was presented with the Al Laramore Award as the Most Outstanding Lineman. They ran into each other again when both Zach and Jake played in the Big 33 Senior All-Star game between Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The Abeys and Hawks have spent countless hours together at tailgate parties and team hotels over the past four years. They have grown to be good friends and now socialize separate from Navy football events.
"We've been through all of this together and have become very close. I'm sure that relationship will go on past graduation," Nadgee Hawk said.
John Hawk is a regular at Navy football practice and appreciates that he can speak to his son and hug him afterward. That is a luxury not afforded the parents of those Navy football players from out of state.
"Being local is special because I can just get in my truck and drive down here to watch practice and say hello to Jake any time I want," John Hawk said. "During freshman and sophomore years, Jake was having some problems so I would come down, pull him off to the side of the field after practice to talk and work through whatever issues he had."
John Hawk coached his son at Meade High and is still providing pointers to this day. Jake Hawk is always prepared to have his performance dissected upon walking out of the locker room, home or away.
"It's always better having my dad at the game then having him stay at home. That way I get the criticism right after the game instead of having to get back and give him a call," he said.
COMFORTS OF HOME
Zach Abey, Jake Hawk and Jarid Ryan all feel very fortunate that they were able to go home on weekends the past four years while most of their teammates could not. Abey knows he's lucky to be able to drive a half hour from Annapolis to Pasadena to spend time with family.
"I would say that is every bit of an advantage -- just to be able to go home, sleep in my own bed, do laundry and have a home-cooked meal," he said. "On weekends we have a bye I can go home, relax and take a load off. I'll go after Saturday home games and get dinner with my family, have lunch on Sunday and watch the Ravens game."
Sharrone Ryan was on a 6 a.m. flight from Cincinnati back to Baltimore so she could make a big breakfast for Jarid and several teammates. She and husband Jeffrey serve as sponsor parents for two other Navy football seniors -- wide receiver Taylor Jackson and Josh Webb.
"Taylor and Josh practically live at our house and have become part of our family," she said. "I absolutely adore taking care of any mid who needs a meal or a ride to the airport or whatever."
Jarid Ryan admits he sometimes brings a handful of teammates to his Glen Burnie home and marvels at his mother's warmth and generosity."
"We'll get back from a road game and a bunch of guys will be back at my house down in the basement. She wakes us up for church and always has food ready," he said. "I don't know how she balances it all, but she does. Guys enjoy spending time at my house because my mom is so caring and loving."
Feeding Navy football players is a bit more expensive for the Hawk family since their 6-foot-6, 295-pound son always brings his linemen buddies. Defensive end Jarvis Polu (6-3, 292), offensive guard Chris Gesell (6-4, 288) and offensive tackle Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa (6-2, 278) are regular visitors to their Severn residence.
"I always tell Jake to let us know ahead of time so we can go to the grocery store and be prepared," said John Hawk, who is looking forward to welcoming several players for Thanksgiving next week.
Nadjee often prepares meals native to her home country of Panama while cooking up several dozens of chicken wings is always a good idea. "They will pretty much eat whatever I put out there, except Jarvis doesn't like anything green," she said.
Sharrone Ryan is an active member with the "Motherhood of the Brotherhood" -- a group of parents who organize tailgates and other activities while getting dressed up in fun outfits for games. They sit together in the closed end zone at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and are quite loud.
It may seem hard to believe, but while wearing a helmet in a stadium packed with 30,000-plus people, Jarid Ryan can still pick out his mother's voice among the crowd.
"Oh my, when we're down in the end zone you can really hear her. She'll be screaming 'Two is my Boo' at the top of my lungs. It's hilarious," Ryan said. "I try to block it out, but I can still hear her in the background."
Sharrone Ryan sends her son a text message containing a prayer or scripture passage every night before games. Jeffrey Ryan usually calls to say hello and wish the senior cornerback well. Jarid Ryan usually has at least 20 family and friends in attendance at every home game.
"My parents are definitely my biggest supporters. They call me the night before games to give me encouragement. My mom has racked up so many frequent flier miles going to away games," Ryan said. "It's awesome to have that support. I'm kind of playing at home every weekend because I always have my parents there with me everywhere we go. It's been a great experience throughout the years."
Ryan will have his mother, father, sister and grandmother alongside when he walks onto the field during the Senior Day ceremony on Saturday.
"It's going to be a special moment for sure," he said. "This last game is going to be a big one so I'm really excited."
ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTIONS
Being a Navy football parent can be tough at times as sons move up and down the depth chart or battle injuries. Don and Jeanne Abey went from the high of watching their son excel as the starting quarterback to the low of seeing him get benched then moved to wide receiver.
They have sat in the stands and heard Navy fans complaining about their son's performance or read criticism on social media.
"Roller coaster is definitely a good description of these last few years. You have to have a little bit of a thick skin," Jeanne said. "There's not much you can do when you have different thoughts about how things are going. You just have to accept it and handle it the best you can."
Don Abey coached Zach with the Buccaneers Athletic Club organization and will never forget the pride he felt watching him start the Army-Navy game as a sophomore. That was followed by anger and disappointment when the younger Abey lost the starting quarterback job and was asked to learn a position he had never played before.
"It's been a whirlwind of emotions. Sometimes you're on top of the world then you get a phone call and know your son is hurting for some reason," he said. "All in all, I think Zach has been amazing with how he takes things in strides then just puts his head down and works harder. There are times when Zach has talked us off the ledge."
Zach Abey understands the frustrations of his parents and must remind them he is just one part of a big operation. He remembers the phone calls to explain the quarterback demotion and switch to wide receiver.
"I try to keep them in the loop as much as I can. They have those parental instincts, I guess you could say," Abey said. "I try to calm them down by telling them everything is going to work out okay; that the coaches are just trying to do what's best for the team."
Through thick and thin, the Abeys keep showing up to support their son. They have never missed a single game since Zach started playing football.
"It's been great to have my parents there every weekend. It's really nice to have that kind of support," Zach Abey said. "For road games, they always try to get there the night before in order to see me in the hotel. For home games, they're always there waiting on the parking lot when we get off the bus so I can hug them and have them say good luck."
Abey admits it will be tough to see football end and not have that camaraderie with teammates that he has known since he was 7 years old. Things have come full circle and after starting the home opener against Memphis at wide receiver, he will be starting the home finale at quarterback.
"As a younger guy you look at the seniors and say 'Wow, I can't wait to be in that position.' There were times when you feel like you're never going to be a senior," Abey said. "As it turns out, it came around faster than it seemed. It's going to be an emotional day, but I'm excited to go out there and play one last game in that stadium."
Navy's seniors received their service assignments on Thursday. Hawk will be commissioned as a surface warfare officer while Abey and Ryan are both going into the Marine Corps.
"I had an advantage over the other football moms because Jarid had not totally left me. He was still right here within reach," Sharrone Ryan said. "I'm mentally preparing myself for this upcoming separation. It's going to be really hard for me to finally let go of my youngest child. That being said, I could not be more proud that my son is going to serve his country."
Zach Abey is going Marine Corps Ground and his parents acknowledge their concern about him being deployed in a dangerous overseas location.
"It scares the heck out of me, but I am very proud of Zach because that's what he wanted to do. We have to support his dreams and desires," Jeanne said.
"Our whole family thinks Zach would be a great recruiting officer who stays state-side," Don said.
Jake Hawk considered going away from home for college and playing football for a civilian school. However, those thoughts were overridden by his strong desire to serve in the military. He highly recommends any Anne Arundel County football player consider Navy if offered.
"You're close to home, get a free college education, have a great job lined up afterward and are able to serve your country -- there's nothing better," Hawk said.
Jeanne and Zach Abey, John and Nadgee Hawk as well as Jeffrey and Sharrone Ryan have already contemplated what it will be like next season when they no longer have Navy football every weekend.
"I don't think the reality is going to set in until next year when football starts and we're not involved anymore," Don Abey said.
"Next year, when football season comes around, there's going to be a big void," John Hawk said.
"We've met a lot of great people and been to a bunch of different cities around the country. It's been an incredible experience and we feel very blessed," Jeanne Abey said. "I really do think we will miss it. Our lifestyle is going to change."
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