“Growing up I always rooted for them and would wear Ohio State stuff,” says DeMell in reference to his favorite team from childhood. “I’m only about an hour and a half away [from Columbus], so it was the team I followed when I was growing up.”
Despite his youthful allegiance to the Buckeyes and playing in one of the state’s traditional high school powerhouses, DeMell was never recruited by Jim Tressel or any other member of the University’s staff. A standout on the defensive side of the ball who garnered All-League honors following his junior and senior campaigns at Mentor, DeMell was thought to be too small and too slow by BCS conference standards. And while the then 6-foot-3, 253-pound DeMell received serious consideration from the likes of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, his eventual college decision came between service academies Navy and Air Force.
The choice was easy for DeMell, whose older brother, Brian, had attended college at the Naval Academy and had even been named an All-Patriot league performer in swimming. Before arriving in Annapolis however, DeMell would take a one-year detour at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island. There he spent the 2007-2008 academic year preparing to become both a Midshipman and an FBS football player, bulking up by some 15-pounds and settling in at the offensive guard position in Navy’s flexbone offense. That spring, Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuck announced a new game for the 2009 season, sending shockwaves of excitement through the Navy football community which would resonate all the way to the prep school recruits in Rhode Island.
“Ever since I was at NAPS - when we found out the game was going to happen - I’ve been excited about it,” says DeMell when recalling how he felt upon first hearing about the game. “Any person from Ohio who gets the chance to go back and play at a place like Ohio State - which they grew up loving – it’s just a dream come true. Just to play in front of friends and family should be a good time and hopefully a good experience.”
DeMell isn’t the only Ohio native on Navy’s roster who has been looking forward to the matchup with Ohio State ever since it was announced. Slotback Bobby Doyle, who played his high school ball at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, says that returning to his home state to play the Buckeyes is a dream come true.
“I have been dreaming to play there since I was a little kid,” says Doyle. “You go to Ohio State and you generally see 110,000 people screaming ‘O-H-I-O’ and it is just a surreal feeling. And now I get to go play there and we get to play there as a team? It’s just unreal.”
Adds Doyle: “Literally everyone I have ever known is going to be at that game because so many of my friends from high school either go to Ohio State or go to a school in the Columbus area. So it is really pretty cool.”
While DeMell and Doyle have similar stories in regards to their anticipation for the game, the homecoming figures to be especially significant for the Navy center, who will be making his first ever career start when he takes the field on September 5th. DeMell, who spent his 2008 freshman season as a reserve guard on Navy’s varsity team, was moved to the center position this past spring. The move came via Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who has been hopeful that the bulked-up DeMell (weighing in at 286-pounds) will provide Navy’s interior line with a strong presence against odd, or ‘50’, defensive fronts like the kind Air Force employs. While clearly inexperienced in terms of playing time, DeMell impressed Niumatalolo enough during the spring to cement himself atop the Navy depth chart.
“I think [Brady] has a long way to go, but I am definitely encouraged by what I saw from the fifteen spring practices that we had,” said Niumatalolo in a post-spring interview with GoMids.com.
Still, the practice field of Rip Miller Stadium on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay is a far cry from the 110,000 screaming fans in Columbus, Ohio; a fact that DeMell knows all too well. While he’s confident in his ability to control his emotions during the game itself, DeMell isn’t shy when speculating about his gameday feelings in Columbus.
“I’d like to think that I am not going to be nervous and think that it will just be another game, but I know that I’ll most definitely be feeling the butterflies,” says DeMell. “I don’t even think it’ll hit me with walking into the stadium…the drive into Columbus is where I think I’ll really start feeling it. But I know I’m going to have to get the butterflies out and get into the mindset that it’s just going to be a normal game.”
Of course, ‘normal’ isn’t a word many people would use when describing Navy’s challenge against Ohio State. With the Buckeyes likely to be ranked in the Top 10 of he AP Poll to enter the season, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has gone on record of saying that the game presents the biggest on-field challenge that his team – and perhaps the Navy program – has ever faced.
“[Ohio State] is by far the best team we have ever played,” Niumatalolo said in a May interview with GoMids.com. “I mean it is not even close…they are freaks. Those guys are well coached and a very good football team and we are going to have our hands full just to compete with those guys.”
The challenge will be especially daunting for DeMell and the rest of Navy’s offensive line, which figures to find itself up against a host of former high school All-American defenders from the Ohio State defense. With 6-foot-6, 287-pound defensive end Cameron Heyward and 6-foot-6, 276-pound Doug Washington back to man the Buckeye defensive line, many commentators and ‘experts’ have already deemed the task of creating running lanes against the Buckeyes as all but impossible for the Mids. The disparity in size and talent is a theme DeMell and his teammates have heard before, but one which they don’t mind discounting.
“I think all of us on the offensive line think and know that [opposing defensive lines] are always going to be bigger than us, but that is with everyone we are going to play,” explains DeMell. “I don’t think it really scares anyone… I think we just take that as a challenge to show everybody that it doesn’t matter if you’re 270 or 300-pounds, you can still move that guy in front of you.”
DeMell’s attitude is typical of the attitudes of his Navy teammates, who despite acknowledging the depth and talent on Ohio State’s roster, still say that writing off Navy’s chances to upend the Buckeyes would be a mistake. While DeMell knows the challenge of creating space for Navy’s run-based attack against the Buckeyes will be easier said than done, he remains confident that his team’s attitude and preparation for the game will go a long way towards proving the skeptics wrong.
“The coaches, the players, we’re all in the mindset of working towards that game. Everything we do right now is geared towards Ohio State...Even if it’s against the best team in the country, we want to show them that we can take them any day and that we can play with anybody.”
Adam Nettina welcomes reader comments and feedback. He can be contacted at AdamNettina[at]gmail.com.