There comes a time in the career of every student accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy when a midshipman must either leave school — no questions asked — or prepare for at least five years of service after graduation. This line in the sand is called “Two for Seven.” It comes at the beginning of their junior year, and students must sign an agreement that states they will follow through with their service upon graduation or repay the cost of their education to that point.
During the first couple years in Annapolis, midshipmen familiarize themselves with their potential assignments — aviation, Marine officer, surface warfare, submarines, military intelligence and more — through shadow days, which better inform their service selections.
But what happens if you’re an athlete in season, or training for an upcoming season? When do you squeeze in the experience at the Marine grounds in Quantico, Va., or on a submarine off the coast of Georgia? If you’re a Naval Academy football player, just about the only gap in your schedule is early June during summer school, before a short summer break and ahead of two-a-days.
And the image of football players swimming through a swollen creek while dressed in camo, wearing a helmet and carrying a rifle caused something of a stir on Twitter two weeks ago when the academy posted a couple photos with #summertraining.
Projected senior starters Ben Tamburello (offensive line) and Lorentez Barbour (defensive back) just went through that training with the Marine Air Ground Task Force. It was two weeks of training, mostly at the Academy in Annapolis, but also four days, including an overnight in the field (and a few MREs) at Quantico.
Tamburello, who plays at 285 pounds, scrambled across a three-wire bridge over a swollen creek with three other teammates who play in the trenches.
“It’s the combat endurance course you run through during OCS (Officer Candidate School), that’s the one that got you out of your comfort zone the most,” Tamburello said of the 4-to-5 mile obstacle course that must be completed in 46 minutes or less. “The three other guys that did it with me are all equally big guys. It was pretty tough for us.”
Tamburello, who had two grandfathers in the Navy and an uncle in the Marines, will have to lose more than 50 pounds by the time he graduates in the spring. He and his fellow linemen were given a break by supervisors due to their football weight.
“It’s built for much lighter people. We couldn’t really get through everything up to standard. But they understand our situation, that we’re bigger for a certain reason. They let it slide,” Tamburello said. “As long as we get the weight off by graduation, they don’t have a problem with it. Guys do it every year, and it always works out.”
Barbour, a safety from Louisville whose parents were in the Army, never expected to find himself at Navy — he was prepared to go to the University of Louisville on an academic scholarship. His experience has been different from that of his peers back home.
“I’ve been exposed to so many different things; I wouldn’t trade it at all. The people I’ve met, I’ve become friends with, basically brothers,” he said. “This is an opportunity to grow as a person. Looking back on it, it was probably the best decision for me.”
Barbour is deciding between the Marine Corps or becoming a Naval flight officer. Sure, there was the physical experience of the endurance course, and the tactical experience of working with a security patrol during a mock battle; but his most important takeaway from the training sequence came via conversations with veteran officers: “They went in expecting one thing and what they all get out of it is they are really proud of the work they do and the people they’re around,” he said.
While the training experiences inspire awe from those who only see that kind of action in movies or video games, one wonders if crawling under barbed wire could help the Midshipmen improve upon last year’s 8-5 season?
“Going through something difficult and stressful, it brings everybody closer together,” Tamburello said. “Everybody starts out complaining, but then it turns out to be a real good time, a real good memory. We got a lot closer coming out of Quantico in ways we never would have [otherwise].”
Talent and fundamentals usually win on the football field, but the Marine training engenders a bond between the Midshipmen that might not exist on the opposing sideline. It could come in handy during the Oct. 10 game in South Bend, Ind., against Notre Dame.
“When you go through Marine training, the combat conditioning, the endurance tests, when you go through that type of stuff with people, you create more camaraderie,” Barbour said. “In football, knowing that person next to you has been through what you’ve been through … that definitely plays a role when it comes to crunch time. You’re more willing to put it on the line for someone you’ve built a bond with.”