Navy offensive tackle and tri-captain Kip Frankland is wearing No. 68 this season in honor of David Forney, who died in 2020.

Navy offensive tackle and tri-captain Kip Frankland is wearing No. 68 this season in honor of David Forney, who died in 2020. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

As a plebe on the Navy football team in 2019, offensive tackle Kip Frankland often marveled at teammate David Forney, then a senior left guard whose steamrolling of defenders remains the stuff of legend among the offensive linemen who played with him.

For inspiration, Frankland watches film of Forney regularly sending defensive linemen and linebackers to the ground from a game against Tulane that season. The Midshipmen coaching staff, meanwhile, continues to use footage of the 6-3, 305-pound first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection when teaching proper blocking technique in the triple option.

Frankland, now a senior tri-captain, will honor the late Forney this season by wearing his No. 68, considered sacred among members of the offensive line.

Forney, who was found unresponsive in his dormitory room at Bancroft Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, died of sudden cardiac arrest, according to a statement from the state’s medical examiner following an autopsy. The 2015 graduate of Georgetown Prep who grew up in Walkersville, Md., was 22.

“It’s so special I get to wear 68 this year,” Frankland said. “I’m so honored. I’m excited about this year just for that. You need to have a chip on your shoulder and an attitude when you wear number 68.”

In 2019, Forney started all 13 games while battling injuries and routine discomfort associated with playing one of the most rugged positions. He anchored an offensive line that helped the Midshipmen amass a single-season school-record 4,687 rushing yards and match the school record for wins (11).

Last year, Frankland exemplified the moxie Forney had demonstrated throughout his career. Despite a torn labrum that required him to wear a shoulder harness, Frankland was the only offensive lineman to start all 12 games, at times enduring considerable pain.

Frankland’s determination, as well as his respect within the locker room and on campus, made him an ideal choice to wear No. 68. Underscoring his leadership qualities was being voted head captain by all the other captains of Navy’s varsity sports teams.

“We’ve got a great group of young guys and older guys that have taken a great leadership role,” Frankland said. “Everyone on the field is a leader in their position group and is a leader on the team, and it’s a great thing to see that we don’t have to be as involved as maybe some captains would elsewhere. The team has a great leadership perspective to it.”

Frankland is the third player to wear the revered No. 68 since Forney’s death. Navy did not issue it again until starting tackle Billy Honaker, then a senior, wore it in the 2020 Army-Navy game in memory of his friend. Starting center-guard Pierce Banbury wore it for the 2021 season.

The Navy coaching staff wanted to be certain Frankland was comfortable wearing No. 68, so running game coordinator and offensive line coach Ashley Ingram, who was Forney’s position coach for four years, checked in with Frankland first.

He did not hesitate, accepting the honor with humility and an appreciation of the responsibility that comes with it. One of the first calls Frankland made afterward was to Forney’s father, Rick, to ensure him he would represent his son properly. He also contacted Banbury to discuss the magnitude of wearing No. 68.

“Dave was a such a special young man, such a big part of the program, on and off the field,” said Midshipmen assistant Danny O’Rourke, who helps coach the offensive line with a focus on the tackles. “His attitude, his competitive spirit, his team leadership, just his want-to.

“He just epitomized everything it was to be a Navy offensive lineman here. It’s a special honor. It’s the highest honor that we hold in our room, and I think Kip was a great choice and one that we’re all proud of.”

Frankland keeps Forney’s memory close at hand by wearing a commemorative bracelet called a Steel Heart with “MIDN 1C David Forney, February 20, 2020” etched onto it. He also makes certain to inform the younger offensive lineman about what Forney meant to the program.

Frankland will be the last player who played with Forney to wear his number. Navy’s season opens Sept. 3 against Delaware at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Midshipmen’s AAC opener is Sept. 10 against visiting Memphis, Frankland’s hometown school while growing up in the suburb of Germantown, Tenn.

“It’s kind of the biggest honor you can get, especially in our little room,” said Frankland, whose former No. 66 is going to sophomore tackle Trey Cummings. “It’s a big deal for me. I called my mom and dad right away. I was really excited for it. Definitely this year is going to mean a lot more wearing No. 68, representing Forney and his family and that senior class in total. Hopefully I really do it some justice.”

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