In fact, Doyle is even willing to overlook the kind of “in depth” analysis which fails to look past his 20 career carries for 187 yards – all of which seem to ignore years of practice field, weight room, and game experience which have brought the Ohio native to his senior season in Annapolis. For Bobby Doyle, the preview magazines and their doubting questions serve as just another reminder of his days of being overlooked at Chardon high school, and just another reason why he and his fellow slotbacks look to improve each and every day.
“I don’t think it bothers us very much,” said Doyle in reference to the perceived lack of respect that he and other Navy slotbacks have received from national writers going into the 2009 season. With just 23.2% of last year’s offensive yards returning, one of the major question marks facing the Midshipmen going into September is how they will replace departed (and potentially NFL-bound) rushers Shun White and Eric Kettani.
“If anything, I think [the lack of respect] motivates us as slotbacks to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we are very capable with what we have on the field. A lot of the guys we have coming up are great athletes and I think if anything it motivates us to do better and prove the people who say those things wrong.”
As for the million dollar question on everyone’s mind – the ubiquitous ‘who will replace Shun White?’ – Doyle said that he thinks he can provide the answer, or at the very least provide part of the answer. While he readily acknowledged that his career statistics up to this point aren’t exactly All-American worthy, Doyle speculated in a recent interview that he or any number of Navy’s inexperienced but talented slotbacks can assume the leading role if called upon.
“Two years ago it was all about Reggie and last year it was all about Shun,” said Doyle in reference to former Navy slotbacks Reggie Campbell and Shun White. Campbell and White – both of whom were known for their exceptional, sub 4.4 second 40-yard dash speed - each finished out their respective careers with over 2000 yards on the ground. Doyle and fellow senior slotback Cory Finnerty (who combined for eight starts in 2008) share just 258 career rushing yards between themselves.
“This year we don’t have the big names at slotback that we’ve had in the past, but the guys we do have are consistent and we work hard and we will make things happen with or without the ball…I definitely feel that I am capable of being ‘the guy’ if asked, but I also think Cory is capable and that [junior slotback Marcus Curry] is capable of that too. I think any and all of the slotbacks that we have are very capable of doing that.”
Doyle’s statements regarding the likelihood of a greater division of carries between the slotbacks in 2009 are consistent with past statements from Navy coaches who have been asked to identify the next great Navy slotback heading into the season. While coach Ken Niumatalolo has acknowledged that replacing the physical talent of Shun White with any one given player in 2009 may be impossible, he has nevertheless maintained that this year’s group of slotbacks remains as talented as any during his time at Navy.
“This is the most athletic we have been at slot back as an entire group,” said Niumatalolo prior to the start of spring practice. “Obviously Reggie and Shun were difference makers, but the overall group is as athletic as we've ever had.”
Doyle, too, has acknowledged that the idea of replacing Shun White with just one or two players isn’t likely heading into 2009, but said that he and his fellow slotbacks don’t mind putting the unit’s rushing numbers ahead of their own individual accomplishments.
“I don’t think any of us really consider that we are going to step up and take over a role as a ‘go-to’ slotback so much as us spreading the ball around a lot more. I don’t know if it will be how it was with Shun last year when he got the bulk of the carries, but I think we’ll spread the ball out a little more with our offense this year…We are going to make plays for each other or make plays for ourselves.”
If Doyle’s attitude comes across as overly modest then you’ll have to excuse him. Truth be told, the senior ballcarrier has shined in every opportunity he has been given during his career both at Navy and at the prep level. A do-it-all athlete who played quarterback and slotback at Chardon high school in Chardon, Ohio, Doyle’s lack of rushing yards in the triple option hasn’t exactly precluded him from making big plays in the past. In fact, Doyle has earned the nickname “Big Play Bobby Doyle” by many Navy fans, who giddily recall his five-yard touchdown pass to Jarod Bryant to aid Navy’s 46-43 comeback win over Duke in 2007. A year later Doyle would go on to make another clutch fourth quarter play in a landmark Navy win, recovering Blake Carter’s blocked punt of Air Force’s Ryan Harrison to score a touchdown and help secure a sixth straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the Midshipmen.
It’s nothing new to Bobby’s father and former strength coach Bob Doyle, who recalled that his son showed a penchant for big-play capability from his earliest days as a prep player. This ability, said Mr. Doyle, was and still is more than apparent in Bobby’s natural athleticism, which has only been augmented by his son’s strong work ethic and determination to get better.
“The one thing is that Bobby has great feet, and I think that is one thing which some people have the tendency to overlook,” said Mr. Doyle when asked to describe what has made his son so successful both in high school and in college. “His foot speed is really dynamic, and he was only four-tenths of a second off of the national record in the ‘Dot Drill’ while he was in high school…He just kept getting faster and faster and I think to be able to play football at the level where he is at you need speed and he has it.”
While Mr. Doyle acknowledged that speed and quickness are essential elements of Bobby’s game, he maintained that the factor which separated Bobby from the majority of prep tailbacks was his son’s ability to understand the game from a mental perspective. Often overlooked by scouting services and analysts, this idea of having a high football “IQ” was something Bobby showed in his first game on the varsity level in high school, and is still evident in Bobby’s play at Navy.
“I think the experience that Bobby had in growing up around football and of knowing the game helped him,” said Mr. Doyle. “For example, in his first carry at the varsity level he went 56 yards for a touchdown. I remember after the game he came up to me and said that it really helps to know what is going on, and I said ‘of course.’ But he said ‘Dad, you don’t understand – I had never run the play before.’ But he knew what to do from watching and just growing up around the game, so when the play happened he just knew how to execute it flawlessly. So I think he has had that natural ability and knowledge of the game which has helped him to succeed.”
Mr. Doyle, who has more than 22 years of coaching experience between stops at Division III Hiram College and Ohio high school powerhouse Chardon, went on to say that he believed his son was under-recruited coming out of high school. Currently a representative for the sports performance company “Bigger Faster Stronger,” Mr. Doyle has seen his fair share of prep and college superstars during his coaching days, but said that players like Bobby are often overlooked by Division I recruiters who get too caught up in the hype of 40-yard dash times and combine results. Such a dynamic, said Mr. Doyle, has overtaken much of the recruiting process today, but too often overlooks the central question in identifying high school football talent.
“I don’t think there is any doubt [that Bobby was overlooked by college recruiters], and I think that is true of many, many kids at the Academy. I think that a lot of college coaches don’t ask the key question. They ask you ‘how tall is he?’ or ‘how fast is he?’ or ask for a grade point average; but sometimes they don’t ask the key question, ‘can he play?’
And while he would love to say that players like Bobby have proved recruiting services and their “one-star” labels wrong, Mr. Doyle said he sees the doubt left by national previews as further evidence that when it comes to projecting success, many of the so-called “experts” still miss the mark.
“They look at the guys who have the ‘five star’ label and I think they have the tendency to write [players like Bobby Doyle or Corey Finnerty] off. Again, it goes back to the key question of ‘can they play?’ Do they make plays? And obviously throughout his career Bobby has made plays.”
Despite his father’s insistence that he was overlooked coming out of high school, Doyle said that he doesn’t hold a grudge against elite programs like Ohio State, which routinely rank near the top of national recruiting rankings. In fact, said the younger Doyle, being overlooked by such programs has been a blessing in disguise, and one which has led him to a college situation that he wouldn’t have any other way.
“Obviously that would have been great to get recruited by a school like Ohio State, but you have to be honest with yourself and know what you are capable of. I don’t take it personally that I wasn’t recruited by Ohio State just because I don’t know where I would have fit in with what they do. The schools that I was getting recruited by – I mean no offense - but they were not winning and I wanted to win in college. Navy had just won 10 games and was ranked 24th in the country and once I visited here I loved it so I just wanted to come here. So I think it worked out for the best.”
As for his long awaited senior season, Doyle remains as humble and as ever, and said that his only personal goals are to start and to help the team win.
“My biggest goals are that I want to start and I want to help the team win any way that I can,” said Doyle, who like many of his Navy teammates doesn’t concern himself with individual accolades or statistics. In fact, even with some two months to go before the start of the season, Doyle says that his goals are completely in line with those of the team. First thing on the agenda? Mission impossible.
“I don’t care what I have to do, but I want to do anything I can. As a team, we don’t like to look too far down the road. We have one game right now and that is September fifth and that is Ohio State. So right now that is our goal, to beat Ohio State. That’s how it works with how we look at the season.”
With an attitude like that, and with a track record of proving the doubters wrong in the past, Doyle might just give his Mids the edge they need when they visit the Horseshoe.
Adam Nettina welcomes reader comments and feedback. He can be reached at AdamNettina[at]gmail.com.