Rece Davis has never broadcast a Navy football game from Annapolis. He’s disappointed his first visit to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will not include the traditional game day experience.
Because of the coronavirus, there will be no Brigade of Midshipmen march-on or pregame flyover over fighter jets, among many other elements typical for a Navy football home game.
“I’m really looking forward to doing a game in Annapolis and certainly wish it was under different circumstances. I would have loved to see all the pageantry associated with Navy football,” said Davis, a longtime play-by-play announcer for ESPN.
ESPN is sending its No. 1 college football broadcast team to Annapolis for the season opener between Navy and BYU with color commentator Kirk Herbstreit and sideline reporter Allison Williams.
In a telephone interview with The Capital on Friday afternoon, Davis said the production and broadcast teams will treat it like any other prime-time game.
“That will be evident as far as all the camera angles, all the bells and whistles, Kirk working the telestrator,” Davis said. “It will be a top-notch production as usual.”
That said, Davis acknowledged stadium atmosphere will be dramatically different, and that is bound to come through during the broadcast. He was unsure how the audio team will handle the sounds that microphones near the field will inevitably pick up, such as coaches yelling from the sidelines and players barking signals during the game.
“It will certainly look and sound different, as all sports have without fans,” Davis said. “I think our audio team will make it comfortable for the viewers, so you don’t feel like you’ve snuck into the stadium to watch practice.”
While Davis has never worked a game in Annapolis, he has broadcast many Navy games over the years. He called the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl against Utah, which was Ken Niumatalolo’s first game as Navy head coach.
ESPN will be following numerous storylines during the broadcast, including the fact that the head coaches are from the same hometown. Niumatalolo and BYU counterpart Kalani Sitake grew up in Laie, a small town on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
“I think that’s an incredible occurrence and we will explore the relationship between Ken and Kalani. They have tremendous respect for each other,” said Davis, who worked with Niumatalolo on the correct pronunciation of Laie. “Kalani had high praise for Ken and said he always looked up to him. Ken felt Kalani had many mentors better than him. They are both such gracious gentlemen who possess great humility.”
Both starting quarterbacks are interesting subjects as well. Dalen Morris will become the first Navy quarterback to make his first career start in the season opener since Brian Hampton in 2006.
Morris made a dramatic rise from third on the depth chart to unquestioned starter early in training camp and will replace Malcolm Perry under center. After a record-setting career at Navy, Perry was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the NFL draft and on Saturday made the initial 53-man active roster.
“We talk about Dalen’s story as far as getting off the mat and winning the job. Now he must replace a legend as Malcolm just did unbelievable things last season,” Davis said. “We’ll explore how Navy has always been able to adjust and adapt over the years when having a quarterback change.”
There is speculation Navy may throw the ball more this season, largely because Morris is quite comfortable doing so. Also, the Midshipmen engaged in skeleton passing drills far more than usual during training camp due to the unique practice circumstances.
On the other sideline, Zach Wilson enters his third season as the BYU starter. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound player was limited last year after undergoing shoulder surgery following his freshman season. Wilson passed for 2,382 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019 despite also missing four games with a broken thumb.
“Zach Wilson is a very talented guy that played hurt all of last season. He could throw the ball but had not recovered his velocity,” Davis said.
ESPN must address the different practice approaches by the two programs. BYU practiced normally with the starting offense scrimmaging against the starting defense. Navy did not hold live practices out of concern for the coronavirus.
“We’ll see how that plays out and whether it’s a factor. It could be good or bad,” Davis said. “Maybe Navy is fresh and locked in on technique, or maybe they’re not sharp as far as blocking and tackling.”
Navy has rebuilt its offensive line after losing three starters. Justin Self has switched from tackle to center and will face a significant challenge in his first career start. BYU has one of the nation’s best nose guards in Khyiris Tonga, a 6-foot-4, 321-pound senior who is a top NFL prospect.
When the timing seems appropriate, Davis and Herbstreit will discuss the tragic death of David Forney, a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection after a stellar senior season as starting right guard for Navy.
Forney, who played in 39 straight games over his last three seasons, suffered cardiac arrest in his dormitory room Feb. 20 at Bancroft Hall and could not be revived.
Navy did not issue jersey No. 68 this season out of respect for Forney. The Midshipmen will wear a helmet sticker that depicts Forney running out of the tunnel carrying the American flag before the 2019 Army-Navy game.
“At some point we’ll judiciously and very respectfully tell the story of David Forney,” Davis said.
When the camera pans to the broadcast booth, viewers will see that Davis and Herbstreit are properly socially distanced. ESPN will have spotters operating remotely, which is a significant change.
“I think ESPN is doing all it can to protect the broadcast team,” Davis said. “You have to be diligent and not let your guard down. I’m not nervous, although I’ll be very careful. I’ll bring wipes everywhere I go.”
ESPN was originally scheduled to broadcast “College GameDay” from the Navy-Notre Dame game at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Davis acknowledged the strange twist that he will instead call play-by-play for Navy-BYU in Annapolis.
“I think Navy made a great recovery by getting BYU to replace Notre Dame. I know BYU is thrilled to be opening against Navy after losing its rivalry game with Utah,” Davis said. “I would argue this is by far the marquee matchup for BYU.”
This article is written by Bill Wagner from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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