Alison Althouse, GoMids.com
Defensive backs often pride themselves on having short memories. Capable of putting the last play -- or loss -- behind them, they're the kinds of players who always have to be looking forward. But where does a cornerback look to when he's also a student of history?
Navy's David Sperry isn't ready to forget the past. Not past plays, past quarters, and definitely not past losses. But while he knows he could replay the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas of Navy's 35-34 overtime loss to Air Force, he's also moving on. Once more, he's moving on with the mindset that those who don't learn from past are doomed to repeat it
"It was heartbreaking," said the 5-foot-11 junior from Las Vegas, Neavda. "We need to redeem ourselves after that one. We felt like we should have won, and now it’s up to us to turn it around."
Sperry, a history major who currently has 16 tackles and an interception on the year, likes to apply his perception of the past to make better on his preparations and outlook for the future. Even when Navy with trailing Air Force 21-3 at halftime, Sperry was keeping previous Navy comebacks in mind, staying even keel as the Midshipmen defense tightened up amidst a furious Navy comeback.
“With my perspective on history I guess I respect it more than most (people),” he said. “We’ve been in situations that have been tighter than the situation we were in on Saturday, so the whole time, I guess I was just reflecting back that it was possible to get the ‘W.’”
Getting that “W” takes on almost season-defining importance this Saturday, when Southern Miss (4-1) visits Annapolis to take on the 2-2 Midshipmen. The Golden Eagle offense is coming off a record setting 654 yard day in their 48-24 hammering of Rice last week, winning a third straight game after a turnover-filled week two loss to Marshall quieted some whispers of possibly going undefeated in 2010. The Eagles have established a strong tradition under head coach Larry Fedora, and look well on their way to clinching an 18th straight winning season.
No player has been more influential to Southern Mississippi’s success this year than quarterback Austin Davis. Davis, who’s currently fifth in Conference-USA in passing efficiency, has hit on over 60% of his passes for the season, all while throwing for 1274 yards and rushing for 76 more. He hasn’t just impressed opposing coaches, but has even managed to garner national attention from a name familiar to those in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
“He’s a great quarterback,” said Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green. “I don’t know if you heard Brett Favre on TV the other night – he was doing the color commentary – but he described (Davis) as a First-Rounder."
The only thing more impressive than Davis' completion percentage is the amount of targets he’s made use of. Davis has thrown touchdown passes of 45 yards of longer to four of Southern Miss’s receivers this season, including three scores to the team’s leading receiver, Ryan Balentine. According to Green, Davis’ touchdown passes aren’t coming on dinks and dunks either, and are a testament to the quarterback’s arm strength and field vision.
“Every receiver on their two-deep has caught a ball of 45 yards or more for a touchdown. When you think about that in reality, you say, ‘wait a minute now, those aren’t catches where they grab and go.' Those balls were thrown fifty, fifty five yards, sixty yards. A lot of their offense is built to hit the deep ball.”
Sperry and his teammates have been carefully studying film of Davis, but know that ultimately, defending the pass will come down to executing and keeping everything in front of them Saturday.
“We just got to be ready for a team that is going to throw the ball deep and be ready to break on short routes,” Sperry said.
Asked whether or not he’ll need to adopt the familiar mantra of a cornerback to “have a short memory” when it comes to playing against such an accomplished group of receivers, Sperry scoffed at the notion, saying he prefers to use the lessons of failure – whether it be his own or his team’s – as motivation for getting better.
“I don’t like to just forget about the past. I like to use it. If I make a bad play I like to remember, to redeem myself – maybe make a bigger play the next time,’ Sperry said.
It’s a no-brainer for Sperry. “If I give up a touchdown I’m definitely going to work to not give up another touchdown. I’m going to use that anger -- or whatever that I have for letting my teammates down -- to try to redeem myself,” he said.
Green has seen Sperry use that anger and disappointment from last week’s loss at practice this week. While he’s not the most outspoken Navy defender, Sperry has continued to impress Green with his silent example, showing up day in and day out to change the outcome of the future.
“Probably the biggest compliment you could say about him is he came to work, and he came to work full speed and eager," Green said. “He’s worked his butt off this week in practice to get better – whether it’s one-on-one against the scout team or anything he’s done. There has been no dropoff of ‘oh I’m feeling sorry for myself.’ He has come back to work, and he has worked as hard this week as he has any other time.”
Ever the history student and competitor, Sperry promises to look to the past as Navy faces a critical juncture in the season on Saturday.
“As a team we can’t forget who we are,” he said. “Last year when we lost to Air Force and came back to beat Wake Forest it really sparked our team. We are planning on doing the same thing.”
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