Even though he hasn't been a head coach in an Army-Navy game yet, Army coach Jeff Monken wanted to attend the Monday funeral of Navy player Will McKamey, who died three days after collapsing at practice March 22.
Monken, who coached at Georgia Southern in 2013, was hired as Army's coach in December. He was an assistant at Navy from 2002-2007.
"It’s more than just a rivalry on the field," Monken said. "There’s something beyond that. I really felt it was important that our academy and our football team was represented there. We were all just amazed at how remarkably strong his parents were and what a great example of leadership they were for their other children and for all the people that were there. It was great to be there and be around their players and coaches and be there together with the same sense of spirit to support his family and their loss."
After collapsing at practice, McKamey had emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. However, he never awoke after spending three days in a coma.
More than 50 members of Navy's football program attended the services for McKamey. The team resumed practice on Tuesday after taking time off after the practice on March 22.
“Last week, we took some time off to mourn. We let guys do things voluntarily like throw the football or lift weights and we tried to do some things as a team,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told the Annapolis Capital-Gazette.
“Our approach now is: the way we can honor Will, one of our brothers, is to come out here and get after it on the field. Our hope is that this would be therapeutic and help us. Hopefully, coming back and hitting, tackling, catching the ball – just doing what these guys do – would help us heal.”
Niumatalolo also said he struggled with figuring out what the Navy program should do in the days after McKamey's death.
“There’s nothing that prepares you for something like that. I’ve been coaching 25 years and there’s no blueprint,” said Niumatalolo, who held a team meeting every day last week so the players could bond and discuss their feelings. “We just have to continue to press forward and do the best we can. I don’t think anyone knows the timetable or what to do and how to do it.”
McKamey, who was Tennessee's Mr. Football in 2012 as a high school senior, collapsed during the final game of his high school career. After doctors monitored swelling on his brain, he didn't need surgery and was cleared to play football after taking some time off.
However, the Captial-Gazette reported several sources inside the Navy team said team doctors had reservations about McKamey's participation and the family was asked to sign a waiver. After he collapsed, McKamey's family issued a statement saying the program did nothing wrong.
Niumatalolo said the team looked at video to see if anything on the field could have led to his collapse.
“It’s hard enough that the kid passed away. The hardest part is that we wish we knew what happened. Nobody knows what happened,” he said. “That’s on the back burner right now. There’s a family that just buried their son Monday. That supersedes everything.”
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