Kettani Ready for Showdown with Army, Mooney

Eric Kettani (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

What would Army week be without an interview with arguably Navy's most outspoken player, senior Eric Kettani? The bruising fullback took a few minutes out of his hectic week to talk about the rivalry, leadership on the offense, taking exams during bowl week, and his showdown at high noon on Saturday with Army fullback Colin Mooney.

Fullbacks in Focus

In August when Army defensive coordinator John Mumford said, "Collin Mooney is probably better than any Navy fullback we've ever faced. Not to compliment Navy but that's a compliment to Collin," it caused a bit of a stir in Annapolis. However, Mooney has delivered on his coach's comments – and then some. The senior has rushed for 1,285 yards on 214 carries and scored eight touchdowns. In fact, he is on the verge of breaking the Black Knights' all-time single-season rushing record. If Mooney gains 54 yards against the Midshipmen this Saturday in Philadelphia, he will own the record.

Meanwhile at Navy, Kettani has what some would consider a disappointing season – at least statistically. He has rushed for 807 yards on 152 carries and has only scored 3 touchdowns. However, Kettani put together his two best performances of the season in Navy's biggest wins of the season. In back-to-back victories against Rutgers and Wake Forest, the senior rushed for 133 and 175 yards respectively.

And even though Mooney and Kettani are both seniors, this Saturday will mark the first time that both will be central figures in the Army-Navy game. Last season, Army did not feature its fullback in its offense; and for Navy, they used a one-two punch at the position as Kettani split carries with teammate Adam Ballard. Kettani admits though that Mumford's comments and Mooney's performance have added even more incentive to the contest.

"Definitely it has. (Mooney) has put up some yards this year and he has been pretty productive for Army which is good for him. Hopefully when we get out there (on the field) we will both prove what we can do," said Kettani.

The Rivalry

In the past decade or so, most Navy players, when asked to compare the Army rivalry to the Air Force one, would usually all say the same thing. In so many words, players would not hesitate to say that the game against the Falcons was very rarely a battle of brothers on the field; whereas the Army game was almost always thought of as a civil war. Last year's game, though, according to Kettani, was a little different.

"You could say it was more civil my first three years, but last year it was a pretty dirty game. There was a lot of trash talking and stuff. But they wanted to win and so did we. It's football, what do you expect?"

And since Army has now dropped six games in a row to Navy, Kettani has no doubt his team will get everything the Black Knights have to offer.

"I bet they are a little frustrated (with the losing streak), but I wouldn't expect anything less than them playing their best. And we will too."

"It's a rivalry game. If you look at all the rivalry games last week and all of the upsets. People want to win. It's a different atmosphere," he continued.

Army's Defense

In 2005, Navy ran for 490 yards and averaged 8.4 yards per rush against Army. However, since then the Black Knights have played Navy as well as any other defense. In the last two meetings, Army has held the Mids to under 290 yards rushing and under five yards per carry.

Kettani said the numbers don't lie.

"(Army's defense is) very assignment-oriented. They know what is going on, and they know where to be at the right time. They play tough and they really swarm to the ball."

"And since Army has been running the option this year, it should help them prepare (for us)," said Kettani. "Most of the colleges run the pro-set offense and they don't see the old- school triple option. When you practice against it the whole year, you get to know what the tackles are doing, what the guards are doing and how to read it."

Offensive Leadership

Kettani said that he did not have a chance to read a certain column by a certain author who openly asked who was the vocal leader of Navy's offense. When asked who he thought was the unit's leader, he said:

"That's a hard question because everybody…all of us have our own opinions because people talk in different ways. I'm a different leader than (senior offensive guard) Anthony Gaskins for example," said Kettani.

"Anthony is the big vocal leader on the offensive line because he has been playing for three years and he has a lot of game experience. Tyree Barnes does a great job with the wide receivers.  And also when Kaipo is in there, he's a big vocal leader. As for myself, I speak more with my pads. I'm really not a talker. If somebody does something wrong, I'll tell them to pick it up."

But what about fellow senior Jarod Bryant?

"Jarod is a different leader. He is not going to yell at you, but he will bring you aside and tell you straight up what you are doing wrong. He told me plenty of times that I need to hit the hole harder and break through arm tackles.  He tells everybody. He's the captain of the team."

Kettani said that people respond to different leadership styles. Some, he said, prefer a "silent" leader while others are motivated by a "vocal" one. An example of the later, according to Kettani, was his former teammate, Zerbin Singleton.

"Zerb's always talking. He's still out here coaching and talking. After being with him for so many years, I mean come on," joked Kettani.

Meanwhile, on the sideline, Kettani said that both head coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper have provided him with plenty of vocal leadership through the years.

"Coach Niumat has been on my case all season. You may not see it on TV all the time, but he's been on me since the first day of camp. There is no difference in him (from the beginning of my career to now)," said Kettani.

"He got on my case on one play (against Northern Illinois) when I missed a block. I missed my linebacker…he got underneath me which I'm not supposed to let happen," he continued.  "Actually my mom called me (after the game) and asked me why coach was yelling at me. I started laughing."

Jasper also has not been shy, according to Kettani, when it comes to delivering some straight talk.

"Actually my first year, he told me I was never going to play football here. I think I have proved him wrong over the years, but you never know.  He's always on all of our cases…Kaipo, Jarod…everybody.  (Coach Jasper) strives for perfection. His hand (on the offense) is huge. He runs the offense with play calls and with his motivation." 

Goals

"It would have been a perfect season if we had beaten Notre Dame. That was a big goal for me personally, but it didn't happen so it would be nice to beat Army and win the bowl game. A nine-win season would be a pretty big accomplishment here," remarked Kettani, who also has one statistical goal he would still like to achieve.

"I would like to get 1,000 yards. That would be nice. I have not achieved that goal yet in my career. It's just my personal goal."

In order for that to happen, the Mids offense, including Kettani, will probably need to play as well as they have all season – something the fullback believes is posssible.

"Certain drives we have had this season have been similar to our (production) last season. We strive for perfection every day in practice. If we could have that type of (complete) performance against Army, it would be great."

Books and Bowls

And even though you could tell the Navy fullback was raring to get on the field, it was evident from the conversation that he was also a little tired and ready to move on to the next phase of his career.

"I'm ready to graduate," he admitted.

Part of the reason Kettani was exhausted at about 10 a.m. on Tuesday was because he was up until at least 2:30 a.m. doing homework. And while most college football players would probably be studying the defenses of their archrivals during such a week, Kettani had been spending the last three nights trying to conquer a ten-page paper for his Labor Economics class with Professor Glaser.

And if you think Kettani's academic schedule will lighten up after Army, you would be mistaken. As a matter of fact, it is about to get a lot rougher. The week leading up to the EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 20, all midshipmen will be taking finals.

"I have five in total," said Kettani. "I am especially not looking forward to the Thermodynamics one. We are going to be practicing while we are studying for finals which is pretty hard to do – especially at the Naval Academy."

And when it comes to a possible opponent in the bowl game, that thought has not even crossed his mind.

"Honestly, I don't even care who we play. I'll play whoever they put up (against us). I'm more worried about school right now."

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 Have a comment? Send David an email at Offtheyard@gmail.com

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