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Navy football fully vaccinated; Niumatalolo says 'pick us where they pick us'

The U.S. Naval Academy has a fully vaccinated roster against COVID-19, according to coach Ken Niumatalolo, who's eyeing a bounce-back season after a miserable 2020 campaign.
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Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has no concerns with the American Athletic Conference's plan to hand teams forfeit-losses in 2021 if their rosters are decimated by COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players.

Niumatalolo, after all, has no such concerns with his Midshipmen, who are seeking a significant bounce-back year after languishing through a 3-7 2020 campaign that included five-straight losses and a COVID-cancelled game to close the season.

“Well, right now, our program is 100% vaccinated, so we're ready to go,” Niumatalolo said Wednesday during AAC Media Day. “From a program last year, nobody erred on the side of caution more than we did here at the Naval Academy.

“Our whole program, we're all vaccinated. The league came out with that policy and we're going to abide by it.”

With the AAC having established that forfeit policy more than a month before the season kicks off, similar to virtually all other Football Bowls Subdivision conferences, the veteran Navy coach sees no issues with adhering the protocols.

“They've told us up front,” Niumatalolo said. “We know the rules. Everybody in the league knows the ramifications and so we've taken the necessary precautions not only to protect our players but make sure we can play.

“We've done everything in our power to make sure, our program, we're going to play this year and we're going to be ready to go.”

Niumatalolo also is welcoming a return to the culture he's established through 14 seasons atop the program and nearly a quarter-century on staff at the Naval Academy.

The Midshipmen, with COVID-19 concerns front and center, elected last preseason not to have any full-contact tackling in practice, and they appeared overmatched from the season's outset – a 56-3 loss to BYU.

“A lot of what happened last year was my fault, because I chose to go that route,” he said. “But we've been completely back to our culture this year, so I just feel really, really good. We've got great team leadership, great team captains.

“We just keep our mouth quiet and grind, let people pick us where they pick us. We'll be ready Sept. 4 when the first game comes.”