April 18, 2011
By Bob Socci
A few days before the Navy Midshipmen hosted Central Michigan last November, after it became official that the so-called backup would be moved up, head coach Ken Niumatalolo had no qualms whatsoever about quarterback Kriss Proctor.
"Kriss prepared all offseason as if he were going to be the starter," Niumatalolo said of the junior who was soon to spell injured senior Ricky Dobbs, fully expecting a seamless transition under center.
That turned out to be the case, even as the lefty Proctor went about his business differently than right-hander Dobbs, relying on his legs a little more and his arm a bit less.
Proctor led the Navy offense to five touchdowns in a 38-37 victory, becoming the sixth quarterback in school history to rush for 200 yards. He scored once and covered 48 yards on the longest of his 20 carries, masterfully directing the Mids' triple-option.
Their average touchdown drive consumed more than 76 yards and they weren't forced to punt until the final 64 seconds. Without star quarterback Dobbs, Navy was fortunate to have Proctor readying in wait.
You could go so far as call it luck. If, that is, you subscribe to the old line: luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
In reality, Proctor's preceding offseason had been spent not as someone who might or could start, but as someone who had been there, had done that.
He had already been the next man up, called upon as a sophomore for games against Wake Forest and Temple in 2009. In the first, Proctor presided over a three-point win in driving rain. In the next, he helped position the Mids in the lead, before a late score by the Owls settled a three-point loss.
Furthermore, Proctor had gone through extended motions as a frontline quarterback. He was running Navy's first-team offense last spring, while Dobbs recovered from knee surgery.
His voice resonated in the huddle. His split-second decisions resulted in a handoff, pitch or keep.
Twelve months later, Proctor is in the same position. The coveted green jersey that makes the quarterback off limits to defenders in practice is his. Only now, barring the unforeseen, it's his for keeps.
"I've been very impressed with his attitude and demeanor," said Niumatalolo entering this spring's camp. "He understands that this is his time."
In many respects, it's a time for self discovery - en masse and individually.
"For the team, we need to find our identity, find out who we are," Proctor said in late March. "These three classes (practicing this spring) need to find out what guys can lead this team, who can put the team on our backs in late-game situations.
"(For me) getting more comfortable with the offense is important, so that not only everybody else can trust me, but I can trust myself to check to the right play."
Proctor isn't just talking about life on the run. Being proactive in the video room, in addition to sheer on-field repetition, should fortify his strength at reading and reacting to defenses on option plays. It also, Proctor's convinced, will make him an accurate passer - albeit one with just nine career attempts.
"Just getting into the playbook, knowing where people are going to be," Proctor answers, when questioned what he can do to become a threat as a thrower.
To underscore the point, he quotes a boyhood favorite.
"Steve Young once said, `The key to being a good quarterback is being able to read defenses,'" says Proctor, referring to the pro football Hall of Famer.
On one hand - the left in this case - it's natural for a Northern Californian like Proctor to look up to a San Francisco southpaw, who also was dangerous on the move, scrambling away from defenders. On the other, Proctor was considered foremost a candidate for the secondary by most college recruiters.
The offense he quarterbacked at Big Bear High was similar to Navy's - which makes it mostly dissimilar to almost every other college scheme. Coaches from power-conference schools decided Proctor was best suited to play safety.
But much like someone else already in the Mids' program at the time, Proctor opted for what appears a near-perfect fit, as a quarterback.
"Kriss is a natural option quarterback," Navy's offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper told gomidshipmen.com in the fall of 2009. "He's the same as (Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada) coming out of high school. He was coached by a guy who has been (running) the option for a long time."
Like Kaheaku-Enhada, who was prepped for the triple-option in Hawaii, Proctor is as comfortable breaking down defenses as a New York City point guard in a pick-up basketball game. From his cut-backs to his ball fakes.
"We ran basically the same offense (at Big Bear) as we do now (at Navy)," says Proctor. "The names of the plays are different."
Other than that, differences are subtle. Considering all of that, Proctor ought to have tremendous confidence.
"Absolutely," he agrees.
So does offensive captain and fullback Alexander Teich.
"Kriss is a tremendous athlete, teammate and player," says Teich, who's been on the sideline much of the spring, recovering from surgery. "He's always been a leader. He's playing with a lot of fire and passion. Sometimes (in games) I would almost sit back and watch him. Now I get to see him everyday in practice."
One of those games last season was at Louisiana Tech, where Proctor picked up for a shaken-up Dobbs. From seven yards out in a 23-23 tie, he reached the end zone to put Navy ahead for good. Proctor also dazzled while mopping up. In the Mids' historic 76-35 rout of East Carolina, his five carries netted 78 yards and 2 TD.
"Part of me wishes he hadn't played in the past and we could spring him on people (this fall)," Niumatalolo half jokes, realizing that video of Proctor's prior cameos is already out for opponents to scout. "He's special with the ball in his hands."
Less than week to go before the Blue-Gold game, Proctor's goals are two-fold: stay healthy and continue developing as a manager of the triple-option. He's progressing nicely, as evidenced on Saturday.
"I thought Kriss had a good day today," Niumatalolo said after last weekend's rain-abbreviated scrimmage. "He made good decisions and I think he only missed one check all day."
In the process, Proctor again exemplified leadership by example.
"I always work as hard as I can," he says, admitting to being more vocal than Dobbs. "It's just a mindset that I'm going to have, even more now than in the past. Now I'm in a position where the younger guys look up to me."
"He's been chomping at the bit," adds Niumatalolo. "He's been busting his butt in the weight room. He's a likeable kid. He can be very relaxed and easy-going (off the field). But he comes to work."
Three years after crossing the country for Annapolis, Proctor is anxious to realize the payoff. He's no longer an understudy to the record-setting Dobbs. Soon enough, it truly will be his time.
Five months from now, following a two-week tour shadowing Marines and a block of summer school, Proctor will lead the Midshipmen into the 2011 opener against Delaware.
And as much as he'll distinguish himself from his predecessor - as a faster runner, more apt to avoid than invite contact, and likely a less-proficient passer - Proctor's raring to resemble Dobbs's most defining quality.
"Win football games," Proctor says. "That's the basis for all of our goals.
"I'm always ready to strap it up, 365 days a year. It's hard not to think about game day. That's why you work so hard."