Navy outside linebacker D.J. Palmore notices new greetings around the Naval Academy campus. It’s not because he’s a senior captain putting up his usual numbers for a team on the fringe of earning a Top 25 ranking.
It has to do with face time he’s receiving on TV. Not on CBS, ABC, ESPN or another sports network. He’s showing up on a weekly series for the Showtime cable network, “A Season with Navy Football.”
Classmates he usually passes by exchanging nods are now stopping him to talk. The subject, though, isn’t about unbeaten Navy (4-0) preparing to host Air Force (1-3) Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in the first round of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy round-robin series.
“They’re joking around I must be a superstar with cameras following me,” Palmore told FanRag Sports. “They love watching it, though. As long as they don’t see anything fake in the show about what it’s like here, they like it. I think it’s a good way to get the Navy program out there. I think they’re doing a good job with the series. It shows what it’s like to be an athlete at the Naval Academy.”
It’s not easy, and that’s precisely why Palmore accepted. He was lightly recruited out of Memphis Christian Brothers with offers only from Air Force and Football Championship Subdivision members Tennessee-Martin and Wofford.
Upon learning about Navy through the recruiting process, he decided to challenge himself. When Navy recruits athletes, the coaches have to find players with strong academics and an overachieving personality to overcome their light recruiting label.
“Most of my life I didn’t have it too tough,” Palmore said. “My parents put me in good schools. I decided I wanted to do something I could earn on my own. I didn’t know much about the military, but my grandfather was in the Marines. Knowing the type of person he was, I want to be like that. I put in for the Marines when we requested our service. Hopefully, I’ll get it.”
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound outside linebacker is a third-year starter and one of the top players in the American Athletic Conference. He was voted a team captain among a roster of teammates training to become leaders. Palmore is fourth among the Midshipmen in tackles with 18, tied for first with tackles for loss (3.5), leads in sacks (1.5) and has a fumble recovery.
His ability to play the run, drop in coverage and rush the passer has drawn NFL attention as a possible late draft pick or free agent.
“If it happens, it happens, but I’m committed to the military,” Palmore said.
Athletes commit to Navy, Army and Air Force for five years military service. They can drop out without penalty in their first two years, but once they return as a junior, they sign what’s known as a two and five — two more years of education, five years duty. Palmore was asked if he had any regrets when considering his newfound NFL potential.
“Not at all,” he said. “I don’t think I could have had the same experiences anywhere else I’ve had at Navy. You can’t trade your experiences. I don’t have any regrets.”
In the Sept. 26 episode of “A Season with Navy Football,” Palmore had a key sack and a fumble recovery in the 32-25 win over Cincinnati.
The show ended with narrator Corey Stoll asking these questions about the commitment it takes to play football at Navy:
“Why do they come to a place like this? Is it something that is in them before they arrive? Or is it the place itself that drives them, that defines them, that allows them to become leaders? At a place like this, everything is possible and achievable. Perhaps that’s why they do come here to a place like this.”
Palmore, conscious of wanting Showtime to depict an authentic view of life of Navy, approved of the scriptwriting.
“That sums it up well, especially if you stay here,” he said. “A lot of people come here but leave. For the people that stay here, there is something inside them they want to lead young men and women. This is a great training for that.”
COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF’S TROPHY STORYLINES
— This is the 46th year of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Last season, Air Force beat Navy at home and Army on the road to win it for 20th time. Navy has won 15 times and Army six. Other years it was shared in the round-robin series.
— Fans view the Army-Navy Game as the historic rivalry that is played as a stand-alone game on the last Saturday of the regular season, but Palmore says there is no difference with the intensity of the Air Force game.
“It’s just as important to us as the Air Force game,” Palmore said. “You want to win the game to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. It’s especially important for the seniors in their last go-round. I saw how the seniors felt that didn’t win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.”
— Navy leads the nation in rushing with 400 yards a game and meets Air Force at a time it is suddenly struggling against the run. Air Force was impressive at Michigan, holding the Wolverines to one offensive touchdown. Michigan needed five field goals and a punt return for a touchdown for a 29-13 win. Air Force trailed only 16-13 in the third quarter.
In Air Force’s last two games, the Falcons lost to San Diego State 28-14 and New Mexico 56-38.
San Diego State’s Rashad Penny got loose for touchdown runs of 2, 20 and 53 yards. New Mexico’s Richard McQuarley scored five TDs, including on 63- and 65-yard gallops. New Mexico averaged 8.9 yards a carry.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun isn’t one to throw players under the bus, so he raised eyebrows in a Tuesday media session. He said the problems had to do with assignments rather than matchups.
“The part we realize is how imperative it is to be at an exact spot as a defender,” said Calhoun, explaining option teams break long runs when defenders read it wrong. “The parallels this week are the same; assignment-wise, you better be dead on.”
— The next round has Air Force traveling to Army for a Nov. 4 game at Michie Stadium. The Army-Navy Game is Dec. 9 in Philadelphia.
Army (3-2) is halfway to bowl eligibility as the Black Knights travel to face Conference-USA member Rice (1-4) Saturday in Houston. But head coach Jeff Monken emphasized in a media session Army’s need to win its first road game.
“It’s nice to win at home, and I’m glad that we have been able to do that effectively,” Monken said. “But you have to win on the road. If you’re going to be the kind of team that you want to be, and have the kind of record that you hope to, it has to happen.”
Three fullbacks scored in last week’s 35-21 comeback win over UTEP. They combined for 198 yards despite starter Darnell Woolfolk missing his second straight game with an injury.
Andy Davidson ran 14 times for 100 yards with a career-long 32-yard touchdown. Calen Holt added five for 52 yards and one TD and Connor Slomka 10 for 46 and two scores.
Follow Tom Shanahan’s FanRag Sports stories on Twitter @shanny4055