Navy football program preparing for grueling travel schedule
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: August 8, 2018
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Much has been made already about the arduous travel schedule the Navy football team faces in 2018.
In fact, an item on the front page of the Navy preseason notes package details the distance the team will cover this coming season.
The Midshipmen will log 26,496 miles in order to play five road and two neutral site contests, second-most of any football program in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season. Only Hawaii, which must fly to the mainland for all six of its road games and will rack up 38,578 miles in the process, will travel further.
Navy senior linebacker Hudson Sullivan shrugged off the heavy travel itinerary when the subject was broached during Navy Media Day.
“I like traveling. I enjoy the plane rides over to the games and back, so I kind of have more fun going to away games sometimes,” Sullivan said.
Navy offensive captain and starting fullback Anthony Gargiulo took exception to that line of reasoning.
“I’m on the opposite side of that. I don’t like traveling. I’m perfectly fine with coming down the road and playing here, especially since my family gets to come,” Gargiulo responded. “My parents don’t like flying so when they heard we were going to be all over the world they were not too happy.”
However, Gargiulo did acknowledge that Navy cannot allow the extensive travel situation to impact how it performs on the field.
“To be honest, it’s no excuse. We get on the plane, it’s a business trip and we do what we have to do then come back and get ready for whoever is next,” he said.
Navy opens the season with the longest road trip a college football team could possibly make, flying 9,706 miles to Honolulu for a game against Hawaii. The Midshipmen are taking a direct commercial flight that is estimated to last just over 10 hours.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo is very concerned about the lengthy flight and resulting weariness will affect Navy during the game. When Navy played at Hawaii in 2008, the game was held in November and the disparity in climate between the East Coast and the relatively tropical climate of the South Pacific Ocean made an impact during the game.
“Last time we went to Hawaii it was November for us. So it was a little cooler here. So the humidity got us in the second half,” Niumatalolo recalled. “There is stuff in games that I never forget. I know what happened to us in the second half at Hawaii that year. Fortunately, it’s going to be apples to apples from a humidity standpoint this time.”
Niumatalolo was even more worried about the fact Navy must turn around and play one of its most important American Athletic Conference contests the following Saturday.
Navy’s return flight from Hawaii lands in Baltimore in the wee hours of Monday morning. That means the team’s scheduled day off will be spent on an airplane. Monday is normally a recovery day with players getting treatment from trainers and doing light conditioning.
Memphis is the defending West Division champion in the AAC and has been picked to repeat. Needless to say, that Sept. 8 game is huge from a league standpoint.
“I’m very, very, very concerned. Frankly, it’s the worst-case scenario,” Niumatalolo said of facing Memphis the Saturday after playing at Hawaii. “There is no further trip in college football than Hawaii. To come back from Hawaii and have to turn around and play the team that’s picked to win our division is going to be really tough.”
Niumatalolo noted that Navy’s original schedule had a bye built into the weekend following the trip to Hawaii. However, the plan to play Lehigh at home prior to traveling to Honolulu had to be scrapped and the American Athletic Conference dictates Navy’s league schedule.
“We had planned our original schedule with a bye that weekend, but because of conflicts it didn’t work out,” bemoaned Niumatalolo, who was speaking at the AAC Football Media Day in July. “I just came back from Hawaii and there is no getting around the time difference. You lose six hours. There is no getting around that.”
Navy’s second-longest road trip in terms of distance is actually for what is technically considered a home game. Whenever Navy is the home team for its annual series with Notre Dame, the game is played at a neutral site.
This year, the Navy-Notre Dame game is being held at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium. The Midshipmen will fly 5,334 miles to the West Coast for that contest.
Navy’s other road games this season are at Air Force in Colorado Springs (3,366 miles), Southern Methodist University in Dallas (2,734), Tulane in New Orleans (2,250), Central Florida in Orlando (1,764) and Cincinnati (1,084). That makes the neutral site matchup with archrival Army, being held a two-hour bus ride away at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, look like a walk in the park by comparison.
Navy’s trips to Dallas and Colorado Springs also come in the first month of the season.
“I think one of the things I’m looking at is being cognizant of our travel, especially early on.We have to get off to a great start,” Niumatalolo said. “So there are some things practice-wise that I’m looking at to make sure we cover all our bases to make sure that we’re prepared.”
Niumatalolo said he has reached out to several National Football League teams that deal with extensive travel to seek advice on how to handle it. It is the 11th-year head coach’s job to make sure the massive amount of mileage being logged does not hamper Navy’s performance on the field.
“It’s not so much from an excuse standpoint that we talk about it; it’s from a preparation standpoint. We don’t want to be hit upside the head like ‘we didn’t know this.’ We talk about it as a staff, so our guys recognize what we’re in store for and prepare for it,” Niumatalolo said.
“You work super hard, you do your preparation, you do your due diligence, you do your hydration, the things that you need to do. We don’t want to come back, and something happened, and be like ‘oh we forgot about that,’ or we underestimated the travel, or we underestimated the humidity.”
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