Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo blew the whistle for the first 2016 football practice on Aug. 3, but fullback Chris High’s breakout junior season began about a month earlier with a phone call from his mother.
Cherryetta High, a single mother of three in Oklahoma City, called her oldest son at Annapolis to inform him she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When she first told me she was crying,” High said. “I started crying. We were crying on both ends of the phone when she stopped. I said, ‘Mom, are you still there?’
“She said, ‘I need you to be strong. I need you to show your brother and sister they have to be strong. If you’re strong, you’ll push me to go further.’ When she said that, I said to myself, ‘My mom is so strong. This is where I get it from.’”
Football has been more than an outlet from High’s mother’s cancer battle. It provided him the drive to remain focused on his academics and football. He was projected as a backup at the end of spring football, but he earned the starting job coming out of fall camp.
In Navy’s season-opening 52-16 win over Fordham, the 6-foot, 224-pounder carried 10 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns. One of High’s scores was a 70-yard gallop that still stands as Navy’s longest run of the season.
For the season, his 55 carries for 392 yards is second on the team in rushing to quarterback Will Worth. He’s averaging 7.1 yards a carry with five touchdowns.
The respect defenses must show High on the fullback dive has allowed Worth to read openings outside and pull the ball from High’s gut to run with it. In the last two wins, Worth rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown against Houston and 205 and three TDs against Memphis. High added two carries for 25 yards and a TD against Houston and 16 rushes for 72 yards against Memphis.
Navy (5-1, 4-0 AAC West) has climbed to No. 22 in both the AP and USA Today polls as the Midshipmen prepare to play South Florida (6-2, 3-1 AAC East) Friday night in Tampa.
“For me, a big difference has been the speed of getting in and out of my stance, seeing the right holes, making the right reads and my blocking. Blocking is a huge deal (in the triple-option). When you can destroy your opponent on the ground and keep your quarterback upright, you’re in a good situation.”
This is High’s fourth year out of Oklahoma City Douglass after a year at NAPS – the Naval Academy Prep School.
The only reason he stuck out prep school and his freshman year at Annapolis was that he trusted his mother’s advice.
“She wanted me to go to the academy, and I went to help her out as a single mother,” he said. “I have a free education and a job when I graduate (as an officer). But when I got to the prep school, I wanted to leave. She encouraged me to stick it out. She set milestones for me.
“She asked me to get through prep school and one year at the academy. I still wasn’t sure if it was for me, but she said stick out one more year. By my sophomore year I realized, ‘I can do this.’ I want to keep learning the leadership skills to lead men and women.”
Although Chris was far from home as his mother endured chemotherapy treatments, she was comforted to know he was another step closer to graduation.
“I love taking on the challenge of being a role model for my brother and sister,” he said. “My brother is in seventh grade and just starting middle school football. He loves watching me on TV. My brother and sister are pushing me to set an example. I want them to think they can be better than me.”
High said his mother has responded well to the chemo treatments. The next step is surgery on Oct. 31 at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City.
“My mom says she’ll be down for about a month, but she wants to come to the Army-Navy Game,” High said of the Dec. 10 date in Baltimore. “That’s such a high-energy game I really hope she can make it. She loves watching me play, and I’d love to have her come to that game.”
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