Once Navy fullback Jamale Carothers gets rolling downhill, he has been virtually impossible to stop.
The 5-foot-9, 203-pound sophomore is having a breakout season after playing for Navy's junior varsity squad as a freshman. Carothers ran for eight touchdowns and caught another during a four-game stretch beginning at Tulsa Oct. 12. He has played a key role in helping Navy become bowl-eligible for the 15th time in 17 years.
"I've played a lot of football in my life and I'm ready for the moment," Carothers said. "It's just a great feeling. My teammates and I worked so hard this summer and this spring. We put a lot of work into this, and I'm just glad it's coming out the way we want it to so far."
Carothers has been integral in helping Navy rebound from last season's disappointing 3-10 finish -- its worst record since 2002. He is a huge part of an offense that led the Bowl Championship Subdivision with 357.9 rushing yards per game entering a Nov. 16 matchup against Notre Dame.
Following a 56-14 win against Connecticut Nov. 2, Navy cracked the Associated Press top-25 poll for the fourth time in the last five years. Prior to joining the American Athletic Conference, Navy hadn't been ranked in the AP's top 25 since the final poll of the 2004 season when the Mids were ranked 24th after a 10-2 season.
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been impressed by the turnaround and his team's resilience. During the offseason, Niumatalolo hired seven new coaches, including new defensive coordinator Brian Newberry, and that decision has paid dividends.
"From where we were last year, ... I'm encouraged," Niumatalolo said. "It's a testament to our senior leadership. They did a great job during the offseason of building the culture of our program. Our mantra has been 1-0. Just think about winning the next game. It's great to be 7-1, but we don't want to stop here. We want to keep pressing forward."
With dual-threat quarterback Malcolm Perry leading the triple-option attack, opponents have not been able to keep pace with the Midshipmen, who enter the final stretch of their season averaging more than 40 points per game.
Perry has embraced Carothers' role in the offense, and it has taken some of the pressure off of him.
"I love it. He makes my job easier," Perry said. "I'm not taking as many hits. I'm just handing the ball off and then watch him run. He runs hard. He has great vision. His feet are really great. It's good to have him, for sure."
Carothers was a highly touted recruit from Bowling Green High School in Kentucky, where he was a two-sport athlete in basketball and football. On the gridiron, Carothers was named the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year for Kentucky and the state's Mr. Football by the Associated Press.
He ran for 1,410 yards with 27 touchdowns and led Bowling Green to the Class 5A state championship in 2016. During Carothers' four seasons on the varsity level, the Purples went 55-3 and won three state titles. He finished as the program's all-time leading rusher with 3,921 yards and points scorer with 514.
Carothers also received offers from Army, Austin Peay and Eastern Michigan, but Navy was the best fit. He's taking full advantage of the opportunity.
"He's breaking tackles and taking it to the house," Niumatalolo said. "To have a guy who can take things the distance is definitely a great luxury because we know the quarterback can. So when you have two guys that can take it to the house, it definitely helps. I like where we are as a program. I know people question us being in this league, but we had to work to get our talent up to this league.
"We're winning on the football field, but we're doing things the right way."
Carothers was named American Athletic Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week after running for 154 yards with three touchdowns in a key 41-38 victory against Tulane Oct. 26. That victory put the Midshipmen in position to win the West Division of the American Athletic Conference.
Carothers has helped create matchup problems against opponents who already struggle to devise a scheme to defend the Midshipmen's vaunted triple-option attack.
"Jamale came into the fullback room with no knowledge of what was going on and picked up everything very fast," Navy assistant coach/fullbacks Jason MacDonald said. "What speaks volumes about Jamale, you tell him something once and you don't have to tell him again. He's a very intelligent kid."
While the Midshipmen are happy to be bowl-eligible, they have a laser focus on snapping a three-game losing streak to archrival Army Dec. 14.
"It's a great feeling [being bowl-eligible]. It just leads us closer to our goal," Carothers said. "It's not the only thing we want, but it gets us closer."
Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics
Issue 259: November 2019
Originally published Nov. 15, 2019