Navy football had a rough weekend. Sure, they beat Fordham 52-13, but they lost something much more important in the process.
On the third play of the second quarter, starting quarterback Tago Smith ripped off a 22-yard run. His tenth carry of the season brought his rushing total to 97 yards on the day, but it also ended his season, and maybe his career. At the end of the play he went down with what turned out to be a season-ending ACL tear.
Silence blanketed Navy Marine Corps Stadium.
Navy football announced Wednesday co-captains Daniel Gonazales and Toneo Gulley will switch their jersey numbers to No. 2 for the rest of the season to honor Smith.
There’s always overwhelming sadness when a senior has his career cut short by injury. But Smith’s story is even more gut-wrenching.
This is a player who spent the last three-years waiting for his turn. He patiently watched as Keenan Reynolds — the most dynamic quarterback in Navy history — broke multiple school records and cemented his rank as the best signal-caller to ever play within the stone walls of Annapolis.
Smith (pictured left) never complained. He never wavered. He knew his time would come, and this season was supposed to be it.
Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo’s eyes filled with tears as he stood at the podium after the Fordham game.
“I was the guy keeping him off the field when other coaches wanted to take him at other positions,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said of Smith. “He hasn’t said crap for three years and kept his mouth quiet. He didn’t get bitter.”
Navy’s first half last Saturday was a tantalizing glimpse into what the future might have held for Smith. He finished the game with 97 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He completed his only pass attempt for 45 years.
“What he did in the first half didn’t surprise me,” Niumatalolo said. “He was a really good football player. He was behind Keenan, but that didn’t take anything away from his skill.”
Senior Will Worth takes over under center as the Midshipmen prepare to host Connecticut on Saturday. Like Smith, Worth’s experience has been limited. He saw action in the final drive of the Duke game in 2013. He also carried the ball for three times for 10 yards and a touchdown against VMI in 2014. Worth saw the field every game in 2015, but only as the holder for field goals and extra points.
As the season rolls on, Smith will stay still. He will serve as an extra set of eyes on the sideline and mentor Worth the best he can. There’s no rewinding time so Smith will push on like Midshipmen always do. On Saturdays this fall, the No. 2 jersey will light up the field, as expected — just not by the player who had waited for his turn.