For the first time since 2008, the Navy Midshipmen will begin the college football campaign with a new head coach. As the previous defensive coordinator, however, Brian Newberry is extremely familiar with the Navy top 10 returning players for 2023, with a number of his previous disciples amongst the best the Midshipmen have to offer.
Navy Midshipmen Top 10 Returners in 2023
Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes that were included on each team’s roster page to open fall camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.
1) Daba Fofana, FB
While the list of Navy’s top 10 returning players is heavily defense-oriented, fullback Daba Fofana is the very best of the best. The explosive junior back led the team in carries (186), rushing yards (769), and rushing touchdowns (six). He also tallied three 100+ yard games, including a standout performance against Notre Dame that saw him average 8.9 yards per carry.
Fofana boasts many of the attributes you look for in a running back. The 5’8″, 205-pound rusher has the power and ability to absorb contact that you’d expect from a fullback, but also has the capability to rip off chunk plays with his speed, explosion, and elusiveness. He’ll be at the forefront of any success the Navy offense has this fall.
2) Colin Ramos, LB
With striker John Marshall exhausting his eligibility at the end of the 2022 college football season, Colin Ramos is the leading defensive producer for the Midshipmen. The 5’11”, 205-pound junior linebacker tallied 79 tackles last fall, with 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also forced two fumbles during a standout campaign while snagging an interception vs. Tulsa.
While teammate and fellow linebacker Will Harbour was named a team captain, Ramos’ influence as a do-it-all playmaker makes him one of the Navy’s top 10 returning players. He’s a technically impressive linebacker who routinely takes good angles to the ball carrier and flashes top-tier play recognition while possessing a violence on contact that belies his diminutive stature.
3) Jacob Busic, DE
While Ramos is the most productive returning player in terms of total tackles, defensive end Jacob Busic matched his teammate’s tackles for loss total last fall while also finishing the year with two forced fumbles. However, Busic was the most proficient Midshipman in terms of getting to the quarterback, tallying a team-high six sacks that tripled his previous career total.
The 6’4″, 256-pound defensive end is once again set to be the most dangerous edge player for the Navy team. He has decent speed for his size, can explode into the backfield like a rocket, and has the length and violence in his hands to shock defensive linemen at the point of attack. He earned preseason third-team All-ACC honors from College Football Network last fall.
4) Rayuan Lane, FS
Navy safety Rayuan Lane made an immediate impact in Annapolis upon arrival in 2021, playing in all 12 games as a true freshman while starting the final six games. That was the catalyst for a 2022 campaign where he started every game and finished third on the team with 71 tackles. The Midshipmen free safety has also made four pass breakups in each of his seasons.
A former high school utility man who played multiple positions and multiple sports, Lane’s athletic profile is headlined by impressive speed and agility that helps him fly around the field. Weaponized by situational awareness and a nose for the ball, Lane has the potential to have a big season as a key component of the Navy defense.
5) Mbiti Williams, CB
Fun fact: Mbiti means “great son” in his native Swahili. We’re not 100% sure what Williams means, but the two combine to make a great football player and one of Navy’s top 10 returning players for the 2023 college football season. After mainly filling a special teams role in 2021, he emerged as a playmaker in the secondary last fall and is set to be a star at corner for the Midshipmen.
No other returning Midshipmen can match Williams’ five pass breakups from 2022, while he also snagged an interception against the high-powered UCF offense. The Navy cornerback has legit speed, with a laser-timed 4.37-second 40-yard dash from his high school days. He uses that speed to good effect on the football field, including as a backfield penetrator.
6) Jayden Umbarger, WR
Jayden Umbarger arrived in Annapolis as a quarterback in 2020 but has quickly established himself as a dangerous wide receiver threat for the Midshipmen. As a team that runs a triple-option offense, seeing a WR listed as one of the Navy’s top 10 returning players might seem strange, but Umbarger is undoubtedly one of the best and most important players on the roster.
Don’t believe me? Consider the fact that the fourth-year Midshipman is one of the four team captains for the team. Also, consider the fact that he led the team with 16 catches and 265 receiving yards last fall. He’s only 6’0″, 196 pounds, but he’s capable of elevating himself far above his listed height to snag the ball when called upon in the passing game.
7) Donald Berniard Jr., DT
The man they call “Biscuit” was an impact maker behind the line of scrimmage for the Midshipmen last fall, but Donald Berniard Jr. wasn’t simply picking up crumbs left by others. The fourth-year defensive lineman is a genuine force on the defensive front who should comfortably be considered one of the Navy’s top 10 returning players for the 2023 college football campaign.
Berniard might be a little small compared to your traditional nose tackle at 6’0″ and 256 pounds, but he gives nothing away in terms of strength and ferocity as a run stuffer. Additionally, his size has some natural advantages like a lower center of gravity in the leverage battle while he also showcases speed and explosion to penetrate the line—with 4.5 tackles for loss last fall.
8) Joshua Pena, OG
The most experienced offensive lineman on the 2023 Navy depth chart, Joshua Pena has 20 starts during his Midshipmen career, which is a testament to his talent and effectiveness since becoming a starter as a sophomore. He’ll be the anchor of the Navy offensive line from the right guard spot this season.
Although undersized at 6’2″, 278 pounds (only center Lirion Murtezi is over 300 pounds on the Midshipmen offensive line), Pena has showcased an ability to move defensive linemen off their spot and downfield that you wouldn’t expect for his size. Meanwhile, he’s been a reliable pass protector when called upon, something to be mindful of this season.
9) Blake Horvath, QB
It might seem strange to list a sophomore quarterback who didn’t play a snap in 2022 as one of the Navy’s top 10 returning players. However, as a new era for Midshipmen football gets underway with Newberry at the helm, there’s a level of expectation for Blake Horvath.
He was named a co-starter for their Week 0 clash with Navy, with only experience preventing him from taking a full grasp of the starting job from Tai Lavatai. Horvath set program records for rushing touchdowns in both a single season and a career at Hilliard Darby High School, while averaging 19.6 yards per pass completion for 515 yards and five touchdowns.
10) Riley Riethman, P
Punters are players too, and in Riley Riethman, Navy has one of the very best in the AAC. As part of their defensive “Get 6” philosophy that stresses the importance of three-and-outs, the significance of Riethman’s ability to flip the field and cause opposition offenses uncomfortable starting field position cannot be overstated.
Furthermore, his 43.2 career average per punt forged over the previous two seasons has Riethman in a position to establish himself as an all-time Midshipmen great at the position. He also sits second in the program history books with a single-game average of 50.6 against Notre Dame in 2021. Last fall, 28.8% of his punts went over 50 yards, with 24.4% landing inside the 20.