Jasper a key ingredient in Navy's rushing success


POSTED: Friday, November 27, 2009

It is a successful partnership forged in failure. Ken Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper had one thing in common early on. They were both beaten out for starting quarterback at Hawaii.

Garrett Gabriel played ahead of Niumatalolo, Michael Carter ahead of Jasper. The backups observed the machinations of the spread option more than they operated it, and they learned. Now they comprise the offensive braintrust of the Navy football team, Niumatalolo as head coach and Jasper as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Tomorrow they lead the visiting Midshipmen against Hawaii, with the same attack Gabriel and Carter employed in some of UH's biggest wins two decades ago.

Niumatalolo's ascent to the Navy helm is well documented. Jasper is the less-publicized wingman, but has also played a crucial role in the Midshipmen's success of the past two seasons and prior, when Niumatalolo held Jasper's current job. Navy is always at the top or close to it in rushing yardage, and Jasper's expertise and ability to teach is one of the biggest reasons.

“;I think he's the best option quarterback coach in the country,”; Niumatalolo says. “;He was my No. 1 recruit.”;

Jasper had a choice two years ago. He could've joined head coach and spread-option guru Paul Johnson when he left Annapolis for Georgia Tech.

“;Some people assumed it was because I could move up to coordinator. It really wasn't that,”; Jasper says. “;I realized this is where I wanted to be, because of the players. Academy life is tough. I see them before practice just trying to get a couple of minutes of sleep, because that's the only time they can. Not that I'm a genius or anything, but I wanted to stay and help them succeed as much as possible because of their commitment and the sacrifices they're making.”;

Jasper's name was linked to the Georgia Southern job (where he coached two-time Walter Payton Award winner Adrian Peterson) until a couple of days ago—he said the job has been offered to Jeff Monken (another Johnson disciple who coached at UH).

When Jasper came to Hawaii 20 years ago from Los Angeles, he arrived with much promise.

“;He could play any position on the field,”; UH teammate John Veneri recalls. “;He easily threw the ball 75-80 yards, powerful arm. Smart. Read defenses well. You had to under Johnson.”;

But he was stuck behind Carter, and eventually became a slotback. Jasper credits learning a second position for his strong base of knowledge of the offense. That, and a call from Johnson when he needed a graduate assistant at Navy in 1995, got his career going.

“;(Playing slot) definitely helped him. Coach Johnson and Coach (Bob) Wagner wanted me to move, too,”; says Niumatalolo, who was a senior when Jasper was a freshman. “;But I was too stubborn.”;

If they had played more, would they have learned as much? Some absorb better by doing, some through observing. What is certain is that Niumatalolo and Jasper are now among the top experts in the spread option.

Tomorrow, the two UH backup quarterbacks take center stage—for the visiting team.

“;It's an eerie feeling,”; Jasper said after coming out of the storm soaking Navy's practice Wednesday at Aloha Stadium. “;Life's full of surprises.”;