When it comes to consistency in the running game, there is no better unit than Navy's offensive line, which excels in a complex triple-option attack that each year puts the Midshipmen at or near the top of the NCAA statistics for rushing yardage.
But when it comes to one member of the line having the ability to crack up the other guys with his comic timing, offensive tackle Jeff Battipaglia, a St. Joseph's Prep graduate, is your man.
"Jeff is a character; I love him to death," said guard Osei Asante, Navy's captain on offense. "He's a very quiet, reserved comedian, I guess you could say. One of the coaches will be joking with us in the meetings and Jeff will say something in that quiet manner that he has, and he'll have the whole room busting out laughing."
Battipaglia, a junior who lives in Newtown, Bucks County, said the laughs usually are spread around among his linemates.
"Before we start stretching, or in a meeting room a couple of minutes before it starts, we'll shoot the breeze about anything and everything," he said in a telephone interview. "We'll always find something funny to talk about. It's not hard to find humor here."
What kind of humor?
"Oh, it would probably be too complicated to explain," he said.
However, the Midshipmen are all business when it comes to executing on the field. They enter tomorrow's annual clash against Army at Lincoln Financial Field ranked third nationally in rushing offense with an average of nearly 280 yards per game.
Battipaglia, who will make his 26th consecutive start, said the line takes pride in being part of such a successful running attack, and doesn't mind that quarterback Ricky Dobbs and the rest of the backfield get all the attention.
"It's fun to go out there and move the ball, making things happen," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are - it's a good feeling all around. It's a cool feeling to be recognized as a good rushing program."
Because of the fitness requirements at the academy, offensive linemen cannot be the giant 300-pound-plus types seen in nearly all major college programs. The 6-foot-4 Battipaglia, who said he weighs about 258 at this point in the season, may be one of the smallest collegiate tackles anywhere.
But as Battipaglia explained, the Midshipmen's center and guards are bigger to contend with sizable defensive tackles and middle guards, while the tackles must be mobile enough to go after the next levels - linebackers and safeties.
"The pressure is on us to get going, make the blocks, and have the quarterback make the right reads," he said. "In the triple option, there's a lot of running around, and keeping the weight on is hard. I think I've lost about nine or 10 pounds since the beginning of camp."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo called Battipaglia "as good as we've had as a tackle."
"He has all the components - he's athletic, he's strong," he said. "He's smart, both in the classroom and as a football player. He's a guy that can move, a strong, mobile player. He's exactly what we're looking for."
Battipaglia said he thought during his time at the Prep that he wanted to serve in the military, and he knew his choice after high school would be Navy or Army. But he turned to Navy after speaking with Joe Person, of Havertown and Episcopal Academy, one of four brothers to play football for the Midshipmen.
"Joe was really cool, a great guy," he said. "It was great to hear his perspective, and he was very helpful."
Understandably, Battipaglia can't wait till tomorrow, and not just because Navy's archrival will be on the other sideline. He is excited to play on the field where he used to watch the Eagles.
"It's awesome playing at the Linc," he said. "I grew up watching Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, and Brian Westbrook play there. I probably went to the Linc four or five times, and I went to a couple of games at the Vet before that. It's cool to get to play on the grass there."
Keeping It Local
Here is a list of players from the Philadelphia area on the rosters of Army and Navy:
Alex Carlton, soph., K, Wilmington (Newark High School)
Frank Allen, fr., G, Palmyra, N.J. (Holy Cross High School)
Joe Buckley, jr., K, Downingtown (Malvern Prep)
Neil Doogan, soph., LB, Collingdale (St. Joseph's Prep)
John Michael Nurthen, fr., LB, Phoenixville (Great Valley High School)
Jeff Battipaglia, jr., OT, Newtown (St. Joseph's Prep)
Michael Walsh, sr., DE, Newtown (Notre Dame)