At 6-feet tall and 215-pounds, Teich knows he is a different kind of fullback than the ones Navy fans have grown accustomed to, and realizes that his fast-break style of running won't always conjure up images of a brahman bull bruising his way to the endzone. For as much as Teich looks up to and admires recently graduated fullback Eric Kettani, the sophomore claims that he doesn't have any plans on "replacing" his former mentor's production going into 2009.
That's because he wants to surpass it.
"I want to rush for 1000 yards," says Teich in his characteristically thick south Texas accent. "Eric was so close last year, and I would like to get there this year. Eric was a great fullback, but I don't think I'll be the same type of fullback as him. I'll be a different type of player."
That player is the kind of running back which most coaches only wish they had in their offensive arsenals. Explosive, fast, and relentless on contact, Teich surprised everyone in Annapolis a season ago by beating out junior Kevin Campbell for the backup fullback job prior to the season. Yet once the year was underway, Teich's role failed to progress beyond the occasional carry in mop-up duty, as senior Eric Kettani was left to carry the burden of inside running in the highly demanding offense. Finishing the year with 982 yards on 190 carries, Kettani wasn't just a workhorse for the Navy offense; he was the workhorse for the Navy offense. It's a fact which has made preseason publications wary of head coach Ken Niumatalolo's ability to fill the hole vacated by Kettani going into 2009, and a point of concern for Navy fans who have grown accustomed to a ‘next man up' philosophy at fullback in recent years.
Not that a Navy player hasn't been subject to such doubts before, and not that Teich hasn't beaten the odds when it comes to being overlooked in the past. In fact, Kettani says concerns about Teich's inexperience aren't valid, and says that although Teich may be a different type of runner than Navy fans are accustomed to, the sophomore nevertheless has the potential to be among the best the Academy has ever seen.
"Alex is his own player and he is going to do his own thing," says Kettani, who doubled as Teich's roommate during away games last season. "He is a great athlete. He's fast, quick, and he's got great hands out of the backfield. I definitely see him having the potential of being one of the great fullbacks [at Navy.]"
Despite what many so-called "experts" project in their preseason previews, those who know Teich say that they don't doubt the sophomore's ability to reach the lofty goals that he has set for himself in 2009. That is because to know Alex Teich is to know more than just a number on a postgame participation sheet - which inevitably fails to reveal the young man with a relentless drive to succeed both on and off the field.
Glenn Hill, who coached Teich in four seasons at Caney Creek, remembers Teich as not only the most talented player on his high school squad, but also the hardest working.
"Alex was phenomenal in high school," recalls Hill. "Obviously he was a great athlete, but for as good of a player as he was he was an even better human being…he is a guy who worked harder than anyone on our team even though he was our best player. He was just one of those guys who led by example, and he was a lot of fun to be around and a lot of fun to coach."
A four year letterwinner at Caney Creek, Teich's litany of prep athletic accomplishments is extensive, to say the least. It's not just that he was selected to multiple All-County and All-District teams as a running back for the Panthers, it's that he was selected to multiple teams in multiple sports; earning high praise for his accomplishments as both a track and field star and a highly recruited baseball catcher. With an impressive resume already in place prior to his senior season, Teich was being scouted by dozens of colleges on both the gridiron and the baseball diamond. Not only did he earn football scholarship offers from programs such as Tulsa, Louisiana-Monroe, and Air Force, but the heralded catcher was also invited to pro day camps sponsored by the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros organizations. A 2005 scouting report from BaseballFactory.com describes the four-sport star as resembling Gary Sheffield in the batters box, and openly speculates that if Teich were to focus solely on baseball then he could "really make great strides" at the collegiate level and beyond. At seventeen years old, the possibilities for a career in athletics seemed limitless for Teich, who could have had his pick from any number of options.
That all changed one spring day in 2006, when a young and energetic position coach from Annapolis came to watch Teich during an offseason practice. Midshipmen wide receiver coach Danny O'Rourke had found success in recruiting fullbacks in Texas before, and in Teich he saw a player who seemed like an ideal fit for the Navy triple option offense. Luckily for O'Rourke, the feeling was mutual for Teich
"Alex wanted to go to the Naval Academy," Glenn Hill says definitively and without hesitation. "As soon as coach O'Rourke came in and visited him, well that just kind of ended things. We had a lot of colleges coming through here and talking to [Alex], but Alex was a Navy guy."
Teich admits that he did not know much about the Naval Academy or the military when coach O'Rourke first arrived at Caney Creek, and up until his first visit to Annapolis Teich says he remained skeptical about the academic challenges a school like Navy would present. Still, the discipline-minded Teich couldn't help but feel intrigued by the Academy, and says that once he stepped foot on ‘the yard' he was sold.
"Coach O'Rourke came out to our spring practice one time to see me, and boy, let me tell you that I didn't even have a clue about the Naval Academy," Teich recalls laughing. "I guess it wasn't really until my visit and when I got to see the place that I was like ‘dang!' It was just so historical and had so many good things to offer. [Navy] was the first school I visited, and it ended up being my only one just because I fell in love with it when I came here."
The trip turned out to be the deciding factor for Teich, who effectively ended his recruitment shortly after returning to Texas. While schools like Northwestern made a late push for his services, Teich remained firmly committed to both Navy football and the Naval Academy. It is this latter distinction, says Hill, which makes Alex stand out from many of today's top high school athletes.
"I think the discipline that is required to be a student at Navy appeals to Alex," Hill states. "I think he is going to be one who we will be proud to know one day because he is going to be defending our country and he is the kind of person we are going to want defending our country. Alex is just that type of person and that lifestyle appeals to him."
While nobody disputes Teich's athleticism or his commitment to the ideals of the Academy, there have been concerns over his size, and whether or not his 215-pound frame can withstand the rigors of playing in the triple option. Not only does the fullback in Navy's scheme get tackled with every carry (often is excess of 20 a game) but because of the way defenses play the offense, the fullback is literally tackled on almost every play. It's a scary but constant concern for Navy fans, who have seen Midshipmen starting fullbacks suffer both major and minor injuries in each of the past four seasons.
The concern over Teich's size isn't just an issue brought up by anonymous message board readers and casual fans, as even Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has expressed concern in the past over whether or not Teich would be able to carry the load as Kettani did in 2008. While Niumatalolo maintains that fellow fullbacks Kevin Campbell and Vince Murray will be more involved in the offense this season, the second year head coach said in May that Teich quieted any lingering concerns over his durability with a solid effort in the spring.
"I think the question is his durability," Niumatalolo said in a post spring interview with GoMids.com. "That position takes a pounding and Alex is [only] about 215-pounds...I wanted to see if he was strong enough to take the pounding, and I was really excited with what I saw this spring. He took some shots but continued to weather the storm."
Teich remains undeterred when it comes to issues about his durability. Saying that he has been subject to doubters all his life who have questioned his size and strength, the quick witted Texan points out that he has proved such skeptics wrong in the past before, and he is more than willing to do so again.
"Taking a beating in this offense doesn't really concern me too much," comments Teich, who adds that he carried the ball in excess of 30 times a game in high school. "I can handle taking that pounding and the physicality of the game. I feel like I am kind of a physical runner and that is part of my nature. I like being physical."
Coach Hill agrees with Teich's assessment, and says that there is no reason to think that the same fiery, damn-the-torpedoes mindset that made Teich such an effective runner at the prep level won't carry over to the next. That's not to say Teich won't be smart about the way he runs, claims Hill, who notes that the sophomore's well known weight room regimen has always been influential in his ability to withstand the rigors of being a feature back.
"I've coached a lot of players who have played [at the FBS level], and I think when you look at Alex you understand that he spends a lot of time in the weight room and he spends a lot of time taking care of his body," says Hill. "We played in a very tough district and we played against a whole lot of Division-1 bound kids, but Alex carried it over 30 times in most games. I understand the level of competition he will be playing against at the Naval Academy is pretty great, but I have no doubt that he can handle that position."
While the rest of the college football world may be taking a ‘wait and see' approach to Alex Teich, the sophomore fullback says that he isn't letting anyone else's expectations limit his own. Saying "there is always going to be someone out there working harder than me," Teich plans to continue his rigorous offseason training, vowing to "give everything 110% effort no matter what." Acknowledging that Navy has several other talented and hard-working fullbacks on the roster who figure to compete with him for playing time in 2009, Teich nevertheless remains confident in his abilities. Not planning to stop at just winning the fullback job, Teich has bigger goals in mind for both this season and beyond, saying that he plans on being nothing short of one of the best fullbacks Navy has ever seen.
"When I get done, I want people to talk about me like they talk about Eric and Ballard and Eckel and those guys. I don't feel like the tradition [at fullback] overshadows me or scares me. I like it, and it drives me. I like to listen to people who say that ‘he can't do that' or ‘he won't be as good as him.' That's fine with me. I'll just work my butt off and we'll see what happens."
Adam Nettina welcomes reader comments and feedback. He can be reached at AdamNettina[at]gmail.com