Navy plugs in another interchangeable part
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Navy plugs in another interchangeable part

AFAN newsletter on Navy fullback Anthony Gargiulo's breakout game

Photo: Anthony Garguilo

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s father Steve coached as a Navy assistant for 34 years from 1956 to 1989, but the Midshipmen's success with interchangeable parts makes you wonder if the influence of Steve’s son has spread to Annapolis.

Bill Belichick’s Patriots are known for plugging in new players and still winning Super Bowls. Similarly, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has found a formula to seamlessly fit in players with Belichick-ian style.

The latest example is Navy junior fullback Anthony Gargiulo’s play in a 43-40 victory over SMU last week that clinched the Midshipmen’s bowl eligibility with a 6-3 record. With Chris High injured, Gargiulo saw his most extensive playing time of his career. He carried 15 times for 145 yards and scored one touchdown on a 3-yard run for a 7-0 lead.

“The biggest thing we do is when we practice we don’t look at anybody as a 1, a 2 or a 3,” said Gargiulo. “If you’re on the field with the traveling squad, you’re expected to perform at the same level. Everybody is the same no matter if you’re at the top of the depth chart or the lower tier.”

That's an attitude all college coaches try to foster, but Gargiulo credited the “brotherhood” unique to service academy teams for backup players having confidence when suddenly promoted.

“The seniors ahead of me -- and even the younger guys -- really help push each other to be at our best when our time is called,” he said. “We all want to make sure that person has confidence he can do the job. It was a great feeling to come to the sideline after a great run and have your teammates congratulating you."

He also stole a couple of glances into the stands family and friends were seated.

“It also was great to see how happy my parents and friends were,” he said.

Navy’s adaptability has been underscored at quarterback with multiple injuries the past two seasons.

When starter Tago Smith was lost for the season in the 2016 opener, Will Worth and Malcolm Perry finished a 52-16 victory over Fordham. In fact, Perry came out of the stands to suit up after having played a JV game a day earlier. Worth took over as the starter and led the Midshipmen to the American Athletic Conference East Division title before he went down with an injury. Zach Abey finished the year, including nearly leading a comeback victory over Army.

This season Abey was putting up big numbers until injuries forced Perry to make his first career start at quarterback. Perry’s 282 yards and Gargiulo’s 145 steamrolled SMU to the tune of 559 yards rushing. They formed Navy’s 53rd all-time 100-yard rushing pair.

Gargiulo, a 6-foot-2, 239-pounder from Freehold, N.J., averaged 9.7 yards per carry with a long of 44. His back-to-back carries of 21 and 29 yards set up the J.R. Osborn’s game-winning 18-yard field goal.

Prior to the SMU contest, Gargiulo’s season line included four DNPs – did not play – and 20 carries for 75 yards. For the 2017 season, he now has 35 carries for 225 yards and two touchdowns. He has zero yards for a loss.

Navy’s win snapped a three-game losing streak that spoiled a 5-0 start and 3-0 mark in AAC play. The record included a win over Air Force in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series. The Midshipmen broke into the Top 25 rankings at No. 25 in the Associated Press and No. 24 in USA Today.

But the season was slipping away until the turnaround game on Senior Day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“We talked as a team that this was not the way we were going to out (in their last home game),” Gargiulo said. “Senior Day and bowl eligibility was on the line.”

Navy has three games remaining: Saturday at No. 8 Notre Dame (8-2), Nov. 24 at Houston (6-3) and the Army-Navy Game Dec. 9 in Philadelphia.

Garguilo or another teammate may hear his number unexpectedly called. This week it may come upon the hallowed turf of Notre Dame Stadium.

“We’re close friends and know we could be next,” he said. “That feeds our hunger to know anybody can do the job and prove your worthy of the playing time when the time comes.”

Follow Tom Shanahan’s stories on Twitter: @shanny4055

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

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