Coming into the spring campaign, one of the key questions facing Navy was how the Mids would look on the interior offensive line. The tackle positions – manned by 2009 starters Matt Malloy and Jeff Battapaglia – figured to be secure, but the guard positions were an open question mark. Not only was team captain and 14-game starter Osei Asante moving on to gradation at the left guard position, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo and assistant Ashley Ingram faced the prospect of replacing seniors Curtis Bass and Andy Lark at right guard.
Enter Josh Cabral.
At 6-foot-3, 270-pounds, Cabral has the body of a triple option guard. He also has the resume to back it up, coming to Navy via the storied Tesero High School program in California. A 2009 graduate of Tesero, Cabral didn’t just help to lead his team to back-to-back league titles, but he did so en rout to being named third team All-state and All-CIF during his senior season. Highly recruited by a number of WAC and even several Pac-10 programs, Cabral had the opportunity few other Navy players have coming out of high school, but passed up those opportunities to come to Annapolis.
Given his background, the decision to spurn other FBS programs wasn’t much of a surprise to those who know Cabral. After all, his mother, Susan, was a member of the first female graduating class at the Academy, while his father, Dan, was also in the Navy. Neither of his parents pushed him towards Annapolis, however, and Josh -- inspired by a lifelong interest in the military and Marine Corps -- forged his own trail by committing to the program.
“(My parents) didn’t want me to feel pressured into (committing to Navy),” Cabral recalled. “I told them it wasn’t that and that I just grew up around the Navy and loved it. That’s why I wanted to join the military, that and the chance to play football. That was definitely a big bonus.”
It’s a bonus Cabral has made good on. After seeing brief duty in mop-up work last season, the former Southern California prep star rocketed up the depth chart during the first half of spring practice. Playing with good fluidity and athleticism, he was a constant standout on Navy’s line, and solidified his position atop the left guard spot with a strong spring game.
"The biggest thing I've been impressed with (in Josh) is his capacity to learn and understand the offense,” Niumtalolo told The Annapolis Capital in April. “I can tell that he is listening carefully to Coach (Ashley) Ingram because I can see that he is picking up our offense."
“I love the way he moves, love the way he competes," added the third year headman.
But if his success on the practice field came easy this spring, Cabral’s experience as a plebe didn’t exactly go as smoothly. Faced with the challenges of balancing school, football and his duties as a Midshipman, Cabral struggled in getting through his plebe year, and said that even his parents’ experience couldn’t prepare him for the challenges he faced.
“It was rough,” said Cabral. “The academics were pretty rigorous throughout the year, especially with football and trying to balance that out. I knew it would be tough because my mom went to the Naval Academy, but even knowing, I still ended up being surprised by stuff.”
“I’m really glad it’s over, but it’s something that everyone does,” he added. “It’s an experience and in a way I’m glad I went through it, but I am really glad it’s over.
Like many first year Navy football players, the practice field became an escape for Cabral, who said the bonds established within the football fraternity known as the ‘Brotherhood’ helped him to surge forward both on and off the field.
“Football was amazing,” Cabral said, pausing a moment before continuing. “The brotherhood…I loved it. Even if I was having a bad day I would (look forward) to football practice and that made everything all right.”
Cabral also received advice and reassurance from his parents, especially from his mother. Susan Stapler wasn’t just a member of the first graduating class of women at Navy, but a two-sport varsity athlete who played volleyball and basketball in Annapolis. Having ‘been there and done that’ when it came to the Academy experience, she was able to lend an ear of support – and more than a few words of encouragement – to her football playing son.
“She gave me advice about how to get through the time,” said Cabral of his mother. “That really helped; that support from back home. (Mostly) it was dealing with the upper classmen and the stuff that doesn’t seem that important, but she told just get through it, say ‘Yes Sir,’ and not to talk back and stuff like that.”
Few plebes find such success during their first season at Navy, with offensive linemen in particular having a reputation of losing much of their lower body strength during plebe summer prior to the season. A fanatic in the weight room, Cabral didn’t have that problem during his plebe year, and looks to build on the success of this spring with another solid effort during fall camp. He was recently named first team All-Independent by Phil Steele magazine, and is already being counted on to help Navy’s offensive juggernaut continue to roll on. That juggernaut took a hit recently, with the losses of playmaking slotback Marcus Curry and wide receiver Mario Washington leaving potential questions marks for Navy’s 2010 offensive hopes. Cabral said that personnel losses leave less room for error on the offensive line, and coupled with the graduation of Asante and Bass, put more pressure on the interior lineman to pick up the slack. It’s a challenge he and his teammates are more than willing to accept.
“I think the pressure is a little more intense,” Cabral said. “Especially with losing Osei and Curtis Bass. But coach Ingram has a high standard for the offensive line, so I think we’ll handle it pretty well.”