Aug 24, 2017
On a Mission

Ever since the conclusion of an injury-plagued 2017 season, members of the United States Naval Academy football team’s athletic training, strength and conditioning, and equipment departments have been on a mission to address the source of the issue. This has involved taking many variables into consideration.

“Any injury can be equated to bad luck. However, when you have a high injury rate to certain areas you have to look carefully at everything,” Jim Berry, MA, ATC, Navy’s Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer for the football team, told the Capital Gazette. “As a sports medicine staff, we look at all the data and see if there are any injury trends. Last year, we had a definite uptick in foot and ankle injuries, so it made sense to do our best to evaluate the reasons why.”

As a result, the department has evaluated its cleats extensively. The team’s uniform, including the cleats, is provided through Under Armour as part of a 10-year contract with the Naval Academy Athletic Association.

“Under Armour has been phenomenal. Their whole team came to talk to us and educate everyone in our program — players, coaches, equipment staff — so we can be better,” said Ken Niumatalolo, Navy Head Football Coach. “Players will get hurt, but it can’t be because of our negligence. We have to do the best we can to make sure we look under every stone. We went to Under Armour with some of our concerns, and they have been really transparent with us.”

As part of the process, Under Armour visited Navy’s campus and showed Greg Morgenthaler, Navy’s Associate Athletic Director for Equipment Operations, how — and when — to use a Braddock device to measure players’ feet. Then, every member of the team had their feet measured.

“I underwent extensive training with Under Armour, and it really enlightened me on the 100 percent proper way to do it,” said Morgenthaler. “It’s important to follow all the steps and rules for fitting. It’s reassuring to know that I can now fit every single player with the knowledge and expertise I was given regarding footwear from the lead designers at Under Armour.”

One of the surprises with the measurements was that many players were wearing cleats that were too long in order to accommodate width. The players’ feet will be measured multiple times during the year to account for changes over time.

“Everybody’s foot is different, and very few people have two identical feet,” said Morgenthaler. “At the [NCAA] Division I level these days, there is a need for wides and extra wides in order to properly fit players and prevent injuries. It’s my job to educate the players about how to find the best-fitting cleat.”

Along with focusing on cleat fit, the review included looking into the uniform dress shoes that the players wear throughout the day. The academy-issued dress shoes may not provide the same type of support as other types of shoes, so custom insoles were recommended for some players.

“We have screened every player to determine whether orthotics would help make their cleats and dress shoes fit better,” said Berry. “Greg [Morgenthaler] and his staff are being more diligent in deciding whether some players need stiffer or wider cleats.”

One final area being examined is playing surfaces. Although the team plays on grass at the academy, Niumatalolo is making an effort to reduce exposure to artificial turf, thinking that will reduce some injuries.

Combined, the sports medicine strength and conditioning, and equipment staffs hope these efforts lead to healthier Midshipmen in 2018.

“We have really revamped our training room regimen and introduced some new tools,” said Berry. “We’re definitely looking at our injuries from the ground up. This was a real team effort to address this issue. We will never know the variables of cause and effect. All we can do is tweak the variables as best we can.”

Image by Spc. Philip Diab

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