It is not uncommon for a football player to be recruited by both Air Force and Navy. It happens all the time. However, it is a rarity for that same recruit, to not only play as a freshman in this huge rivalry game, but to start as well. This Saturday in Annapolis if Navy either scores or punts, a plebe will be front and center for the Midshipmen.
Pablo Beltran was a highly sought after recruit coming out of Humble, Texas. The 6-2, 200 pound punter made visits to Big 12 schools Baylor and Oklahoma State before visiting what turned out to be his two finalists – Air Force and Navy.
“I took my official visit to Air Force, but I felt when I came here…I was really attracted by the brotherhood and what this team had to offer as a group,” said Beltran. “I really liked that. At Air Force it was more of a ‘do your own thing’ and (when) you graduate and that was it.”
“When I came here I talked to people like Ricky (Dobbs) and Wyatt (Middleton) and they treated me like a brother before I got here. That was the biggest difference to me,” he continued. “Even when you are done playing football, you still have the brotherhood. It’s a good feeling.”
Beltran also received interest from Army, but in the end he chose to come to play for the Midshipmen.
In three games this season, the freshman is averaging 37.6 yards on 7 punts which includes three kicks which were downed inside the 20 yard line. Beltran’s longest effort of the season was a 54-yard punt against Western Kentucky.
The Texas native is well aware of what is on the line this Saturday.
“Obviously the biggest game of the year is Army-Navy, but right behind it is Air Force. The last couple of years, (the Commander in Chief’s Trophy) has come down to us and Air Force,” said Beltran.
The Texas native is also aware of the recent history between the Falcons and Midshipmen and the important role special teams has played in the outcome including a critical blocked punt which propelled the Air Force to a 14-6 victory last season.
“I’ve watched film of last year. The blocked punt turned the game around. I am hoping that doesn’t happen this year,” he said. “Special teams is going to be a huge part because it’s always been a close game.”
“We definitely didn’t have our best game against Western Kentucky – we made a couple of mistakes and that could have been the difference against a great team like Air Force,” he cautioned.
Because of Navy’s ball controlling triple option offense, Beltran knows that there will be games where he is rarely called upon to punt – like against South Carolina when the Mids only punted once. However, he has learned the importance of staying ready regardless of how much time the offense seems to spend on the field.
“Last year at NAPS, I went in and dropped the snap because I wasn’t ready to go in and catch the ball,” acknowledged Beltran. “You have to stay ready.”
To stay ready, when Navy’s offense has the ball on their own side of the field, Beltran and fellow freshman (and long snapper) Joe Cardona practice snapping and holding the ball after each play. If the offensive drive makes it across the 50-yard line, their routine changes to place kicking because in addition to punting, Beltran is also the holder for the Mids.
Therefore, unless there is a combination of unthinkable events and Navy neither punts or scores, Beltran will have an impact on the outcome of one of the biggest games of the season.
One player on the Air Force team who will most likely be watching Beltran’s performance closely will be fellow Humble, Texas native and Falcons cornerback Freddie Blow. Blow is currently on the junior varsity team for the Falcons but the two friends have stayed in touch.
“Freddie is one of my best friends but I haven’t talked to him in a couple of days,” said Beltran. “We probably won’t talk for a couple of weeks,” joked Beltran, referring to their new status as “friendly enemies.”
As far as support in Annapolis, when asked how he would like his fellow plebes to help out this Saturday, Beltran had a message for all of them.
“We need them to be loud. The Brigade has been great this season, and Saturday we will need all the help we can get.”