When asked about his first season at Navy, a very big grin comes across the face of Joe DuPaix.
“It has been one of the best years of my career – without question,” the second-year coach says confidently.
“Navy is a first-class operation. I have enjoyed every minute of it,” he continues.
However, when the topic regarding next season comes up and the task of replacing Navy star Shun White, DuPaix’s eye-brows raise and the tone turns a bit more serious.
“(At slot), we have a lot to learn and we have a long ways to go. We only have two seniors, and it’s going to be a great challenge for myself to prepare these younger slots for the task at hand. There is a great tradition at Navy with the offense and the challenge is on. I’ve got to get my guys ready,” said DuPaix.
In other words, the honeymoon is officially over.
Last season, over 25 percent of Navy’s offense went through White and even more worrisome is that 73 percent of the carries amongst the slot backs went to White.
With White gone, the most experienced slot back on the depth chart is Bobby Doyle – who touched the ball 18 times last season. Behind him is fellow senior, Cory Finnerty – who touched the ball 12 times last year.
“There really is not a clear cut – this is ‘the guy’. Last year we had Shun (White) and everyone in the world knew that we had him. The year before that, Navy had Zerbin Singleton and Reggie (Campbell). And so there have been some guys that everybody has known,” said DuPaix. “Now it is a question of who wants to play the most? The guys who put in their dues and have the most success in practice will be the players we go with.”
After Finnerty and Doyle, the candidates who are in the running to see significant playing time at slot back are junior Andre Byrd and sophomores Marcus Curry, Aaron Santiago and Cory James.
On the latest depth chart, Finnerty and Curry are listed as starters with Doyle backing up his classmate on one side. To the casual football fan, it would seem that having Finnerty listed above Doyle suggests that DuPaix is loading up one slot position over the other. That is not the case.
“It’s not left and right. It’s the best two players will play. It just happens that Finnerty’s with the (second team). Tomorrow he could be with the (first team). It’s not so much left and right, it’s more who are the best two players at this time and we are going to play them as much as we can,” said DuPaix.
In fact, that’s exactly what has happened. Since speaking with DuPaix over a week ago, Finnerty has moved ahead of Doyle on the latest depth chart. DuPaix expects that type of juggling to continue throughout the spring and possibly into the fall.
“We are going to have a lot of competition (at slot back) and the guys understand that. The best man will play depending on who was the best man yesterday.”
That shuffling, according to DuPaix, may even include a few of the highly touted freshman expected to join the team later this summer.
“There definitely is an excitement regarding what the incoming plebes will bring and we are looking forward to getting all of our freshmen here,” said DuPaix. “With that being said, the offense isn’t exactly learned overnight and even some of those young freshmen that have incredible talent, they may not be prepared for what it takes to play Division I football. So there will be some grooming that takes place with them as well. (However), the spots are wide open,” said DuPaix.
If Navy and its stable of young players are able to put together another successful season on the offensive side of the ball, there is no doubt it would be a significant achievement for the Mids’ offensive coaching staff. And with that success, it would not be surprising if DuPaix’s name once again comes up in the off-season rumor mill concerning other job opportunities.
“I think every year you are always going to keep your options open. You never want to say that you are going to do one thing for sure and not look into other options and other opportunities. It is a yearly evaluation and it starts at home with my wife and kids. From there, if I continue to be blessed and to work here at Navy for a long, long time…that would be phenomenal.”
However, DuPaix said moving up in the coaching ranks is not something he dwells on anymore.
“I have six kids at home. There isn’t a lot of time for me to think about anything outside of football and my family, and taking care of what my responsibilities are. I would say earlier in my career before we had a large family at home, (I had time) to think, ‘Boy, it would be great to do this or to that.’ Every year you are going to evaluate where things are, but for the most part if we can keep doing what we are doing and maintain happiness in our lives…winning football games. I’d be more than happy to stay right here.”
And staying put is exactly what DuPaix has in mind for the small break that he will get between spring ball and fall practice.
“I don’t, in the off-season, just take my wife and go to Mexico or something like that. For me, the stress reliever is actually being with my family, and my kids. My boys are getting older now and I can do guy stuff with them…hang out with them. It’s a lot of fun. This summer we will get a few weeks again to step away from football…to recharge the battery and prepare ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally to come back and be ready to go in the fall.”