EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Being a team captain in college sports is one of the most honorable accolades you can get as an athlete.
At the Service Academies, it means even more.
Diego Fagot entered the 2021 season with a share of that role, and he ran with it. His 2020 season was full of other awards, including a Third Team All-American nod. There is a good chance some more of those could come this season, but Fagot ended his career on a strong note with the football program. Not only did he lead the Midshipmen in tackles, he made two plays in the biggest game of the year that will be remembered in this rivalry forever — a fake punt run, and game winning tackle to give the Midshipmen a victory over Army.
“We had a fake in the game plan already, so I think he assumed that is what we checked to,” Fagot said of his special teams rush, that kept a crucial Navy drive alive. “He snapped it to me and at that point it turned into a reaction play.”
Now, Fagot had no idea that that ball was going to him. But as leaders do, he dealt with what he was handed and ran with it. Fagot corralled the snaps and sprinted to his left for four yards, making two Army tacklers look like complete fools and helping give the Midshipmen all the momentum in the fourth quarter.
“Players make plays. It was a heck of a play,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Later in the fourth quarter, Fagot and sophomore Jacob Busic made the game-winning tackle, stuffing Army quarterback Christian Anderson on a fourth down run. The play essentially sealed the win for Navy, handing the Mids their 62nd win against the Black Knights.
The tackle felt like a passing of the torch in a sort of way. Busic played in every game, picking up at least one tackle in each of the final seven games. He had four against Army while holding the Black Knights to their second lowest total of rushing yards in a game this season. Army was second nationally in rushing yards per game entering this week.
Fagot and the rest of the defense were determined to stifle Army’s rushing attack.
“They [Army] like to say that they are ‘the last of the hard.’ Quite frankly, we took that to heart. They believe their culture is better than ours,” Fagot said. “They scored on the opening drive and they thought they were going to keep going their way. We aren’t going to lay down for them.
“We consistently kept coming back and coming back, so I don’t really know if they are ‘the last of the hard.’”
Speaking of the word “hard,” the Capital Gazette’s Bill Wagner asked Malcolm Perry back in 2019 how he felt being a captain. Perry responded with the word “daunting” — often used as a synonym for hard. Perry is one of the best players in recent Navy football history, and the team he led as captain went 11-2.
During Navy media availability this year when Fagot was asked that same question, he responded: “Don’t get tired of doing good,” — an interpretation of a Bible verse, Galatians 6:9.
Fagot was often much better than good in 42 career appearances for the Midshipmen, and he never seemed to tire of making incredible plays.
Against Army, Fagot simply did what he always has: Be a great teammate, and do his job out on the field. And his job against the Black Knights was to be a stellar playmaker, on defense and special teams. It culminated with a victory, and in his final game as a Midshipmen, Fagot got to sing second. In this rivalry, there is no greater feeling.