Sad news broke yesterday when Naval Academy beat writer Bill Wagner of Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, reported that senior linebacker Maika Polamalu will be forced to retire due to medical reasons.
Senior inside linebacker @Mfpolamalu has been forced to retire from the Navy football team due to medical reasons.— Bill Wagner (@BWagner_CapGaz) August 5, 2014
Polamalu was in competition this fall to earn a starting spot at inside linebacker which this is no doubt a big blow to the Midshipmen defense. Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo did not specify what injury or medical reason that has forced Polamalu away from the game, but says it's not from the results of concussions.
From Wagner's article:
"It's tough because Maika is a great kid who comes from a great family," Niumatalolo said. "I just feel bad for him because he worked so, so hard during the summer. He was running with the ones and having a really good camp to this point."
Niumatalolo said Polamalu will remain involved with the program as a student assistant coach this season.
"It's like I told him, ‘Maika, even though you aren't going to be playing football, you are still one of the brothers.' It's just going to be in a different capacity," Niumatalolo said. "Maika is going to succeed. Football isn't everything. There's life after football. It's devastating for him right now, but he'll get over it."
Non-Navy football fans may recognize the linebacker by his last name. Polamalu is indeed the cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, and his father, Aoatoa Polamalu, started at defensive tackle on Penn State's 1986 championship squad.
Primarily a stand-out special teams player, Polamalu had also appeared at fullback for the Midshipmen during his years in Annapolis before switching to linebacker during the spring of 2013. Before it was announced that he would have to retire, he was listed at number two on the depth chart at the MIKE linebacker.
Stat sites online such as ESPN and Sports Reference credit Polamalu with just a single tackle during his career at Navy, but without the senior the position of inside linebacker continues to be a growing concern for the Mids. The academy graduated both of its 2013 starters in Cody Peterson and D.J. Sargenti, while former outside linebacker Jordan Drake just moved to the inside linebacker position.
Navy will need more players to step up and fill the void left by the graduating seniors of last year, and now the void created by the sudden retirement of Polamalu. The second inside linebacker job next to Drake currently looks like senior Jimmy Britton's to lose, but he and Drake could see pressure from juniors Don Pearson and Tyler Goble along with sophomore sophomore Daniel Gonzales.