Navy junior safety Evan Fochtman loves the freedom to make plays in his team's new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Brian Newberry.
He took full advantage of that opportunity in the season opener against Holy Cross when he found a seam and delivered a jarring hit to quarterback Connor Degenhardt for a 6-yard loss.
"This is a fun defense to play in. I'm excited," Fochtman said. "Coach Newberry came in with great energy and a new coaching staff, new playbook. There's a lot of plays to be made. I am just excited to go out and make them."
Fochtman has made the most of each opportunity at Navy. He originally was recruited as a quarterback from Archbishop Spalding, where he was named the 2016
Baltimore Sun Player of the Year. He also earned All-Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference honors as a junior and senior.
Navy's coaches decided to move him to safety during Fochtman's first spring practice. Then, he was moved to the striker position -- an outside linebacker who is effective in pass coverage.
"Wherever they need me, I'll play," Fochtman said. "Whatever the coaches need, I am here for them."
After not seeing any action as a freshman, Fochtman played in 10 games in 2018, finishing with 23 tackles, including a sack. Fochtman was asked to switch positions again this spring. The coaches initially were considering a move back to quarterback. Instead, they decided the 6-foot-1, 201-pound Fochtman was best suited to play safety. Through four games, Fochtman has 17 tackles and an interception.
"I came full circle," he said.
Newberry said the move to safety has been beneficial to Fochtman. Newberry watched Fochtman make plays throughout the spring and summer practices, and that effort has translated into the games.
"He is pretty outstanding," Newberry said. "When I got here, they were debating on whether or not to move him back to quarterback and they were talking about a couple of different things. Just looking at him, his body-type and everything ... I knew he was a quarterback in high school; I begged for him on defense. I have just been extremely pleased with everything he's done. He is one of those guys that was a little raw at the position initially, and he just kept getting better every day."
Fochtman also exemplifies the Navy student-athlete, juggling an arduous academic workload and preparing to play games on Saturday against some of the nation's toughest college football teams.
Newberry said the hard work has paid off for the Crownsville, Md., native.
"The one thing I can say about Evan is that he plays harder than any kid I have ever coached," Newberry said. "Snap after snap after snap, he has an unbelievable motor. He is deceptively athletic. The kid can run. He's smart and I have just been really, really pleased with him."
Fochtman admitted it's been a bit of a challenge with all of the transitions throughout his career. However, the extra time has paid off and he has become a key player in Navy's secondary.
"I am more into my playbook this year. I have to know exactly what I'm doing," Fochtman said. "I am making checks. So, I would say from the mental standpoint it's a little more [of a challenge]. But I love it. I love playing safety.
"With striker, you're a little more down in the action, a little more physical. Safety is more of a mental grind."
During the offseason, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo hired seven new coaches, including Newberry, who replaced the retiring Dale Pehrson as the defensive coordinator. Newberry previously served as the defensive coordinator at Kennesaw State and oversaw a unit that ranked second in the FCS for total defense, allowing just 263.7 yards per game in 2018.
Newberry brought a new swagger and innovative approach to the defensive schemes.
Under Newberry, the Midshipmen adopted a 4-2-5 scheme -- four "down" linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs -- to help slow down some of the spread offenses typical of the American Athletic Conference.
Fochtman has adapted well to the new scheme.
"With this defense, sometimes plays come to you, sometimes they don't," Newberry said. "I think he's made the ones that he's had an opportunity to make. As he continues to get more snaps, get more game experience and continue to learn not just what's he doing on defense, but the big-picture stuff and what's going on around him, he's just going to get better and better."
Fochtman has high expectations for himself. The first order of business is playing well in practice so he is fully ready to compete in the games.
"I can always make more plays. I just come out here every day and try to have the best effort I can," Fochtman said. "You know, every day you don't feel the best. But you just try to come out and work the hardest."
Overall, Fochtman and the rest of the Navy defensive players have done a solid job picking up the nuances of Newberry's defense, which features various fronts and blitzes. The Midshipmen have played better against some high-powered opponents in the AAC this year, something that must continue during the non-conference schedule against opponents such as Notre Dame and Army.
"I think what we do is somewhat complicated," Newberry said. "We're multiple, we do a lot of things. To have a spring and fall camp, considering we have to defend the option in practice at times, I've been really pleased with the progress. But we have a long way to go. It's one thing to learn your job in this defense and another to really see the big picture and why we're calling something. That just takes experience and repetition."
"For us, it's how much can we improve week-to-week," Newberry added. "How much more football savvy can get week to week? We're certainly on the right track. We have kids who practice at a high level. They go out and play extremely hard. I feel really good about where we've come from, and we're headed in the right direction."
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 258: October 2019
Originally posted Oct. 15, 2019