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Ken Niumatalolo expects big year from Myles Fells; aware of challenges BYU’s Zach Wilson presents

Fells will be asked to carry the load at slotback, a depleted position on Navy’s depth chart.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Navy Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

If Ken Niumatalolo’s expectations come to fruition, 2020 could be a big year for Navy senior Myles Fells.

A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Fells enters the season listed as a starter at slotback on Navy’s latest depth chart, just a week away from the Mids’ season-opener at home against BYU.

And Fells and the other starting slotback — likely either C.J. Williams or Chance Warren — could see a lot more touches than usual this season because of depleted depth at the position.

As Bill Wagner outlined in the Capital Gazette recently, Tazh Maloy and Travis Brannan both graduated, and three others — Keoni-Kordell Makekau, Tyreek King-El and Garrett Winn — chose not to play this season. And Williams has missed a chunk of preseason camp with an injury.

That means Fells — who has just 30 career touches on his resume — is the most experienced player at the position.

However, Fells has shown home-run potential when he gets the ball. So far in his three-year career at Navy, he averages 9.2 yards per-carry and he’s found the end-zone twice.

When asked about Fells by the Capital Gazette’s Katherine Fominykh during a Zoom call Monday, Niumatalolo said that Navy’s success could depend on how well Fells plays. That’s how crucial he’ll be to the Mids’ offensive attack this season.

“He’s going to have to have a great year for us. For us to have a great year, Myles Fells has to have a great year, and I expect him 1000% to do that,” Niumatalolo said. “You know, last year, he was playing behind some other guys too… He was in the rotation, but his role will expand even more this year and I’m really excited about that. Because he can handle it and we need for him to handle that expanded role for us to be successful.”

Fells started once last season at slotback in the Mids’ blowout road win over former AAC foe UConn. Fells carried the ball successfully five times for 24 yards, and helped power an offense that amassed a season-high 573 yards and a season-best 56 points. Fells also returned a few kicks last season and has always been solid on special teams as a tackler, notching three solo stops in his career.

Against BYU, fans of the Midshipmen will get to see what he can do as a full-time offensive play-maker.

On the defensive side, Navy is likely spending the week game-planning for Zach Wilson, who was named BYU’s starting quarterback on Monday for their opener against Navy.

The 6-foot-3 junior from Draper, Utah was a three-star prospect coming out of high school and initially committed to Boise State before flipping to BYU. For the Cougars, he has an 8-8 record as a starter, but has appeared in 18 games over his first two seasons there.

Wilson became the starter a few games into his freshman season. He won the job again as a sophomore, but missed a chunk of games due to a thumb injury on his throwing hand. Because he can make electrifying plays with his feet and his arm — and because he’s a member of the LDS Church — some have called him the “Mormon Manziel.”

Niumatalolo is well-aware of what Wilson is capable of.

“He just does so many different things. A lot of their stuff comes off their run game, but he’s a guy that can get on the edge, he can throw on the run, he can throw from different angles — he doesn’t have to have his feet set,” Niumatalolo said. “He can side-arm it. Similar to a lot of (Patrick) Mahomes’ stuff, just the angle of his ball release is in different places; he just finds a way to get the ball completed.

“There’s a ton of issues and he’s been playing for a while there too. So, he knows their system inside and out. It’s going to be a tough game for us.”

When he’s at his best, Wilson has proven that he can light up an opposing defense and the scoreboard. Probably his best collegiate game to date came in BYU’s 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win over Western Michigan. Wilson completed 18-of-18 passes for 317 yards and four scores in a 49-18 win for the Cougars.

But he’s been inconsistent at times too. Over BYU’s final two games last season, Wilson had four interceptions to zero passing touchdowns in a pair of losses to San Diego State and Hawaii.

Still, Navy knows it has to be cautious. Until the game begins, the Mids’ defense won’t know what version of Wilson they’re getting.