It's no surprise Navy senior safety Wyatt Middleton comes from an athletic family. His brother, William, plays cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. One sister, Kellie, played softball at Georgia before playing in the National Pro Fastpitch league. Another sister, Dana, plays basketball at Belmont Abbey College.
Middleton, 22, is just as athletic. A 4-year starter, the safety has recorded 308 tackles and five interceptions at the Naval Academy. After last season, when he registered 68 tackles while starting all 13 games, Middleton was named first-team All-East.
His performance, on and off the field, garnered him a spot on the Lott Trophy watch list. The prize, named after Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, goes to the player who displays maturity while also focusing on performance, academics, community and tenacity.
"When I think of Wyatt, I think of one word - professionalism," said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose team will play Army on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. "On the field, he's a very good football player. Off the field, he does what he's supposed to do, from a military standpoint. Academically, he takes care of business. He's just been an extraordinary young man."
Like all students at the Naval Academy, Middleton was given the opportunity to leave the academy after his sophomore year to find another school if a military career seemed unsuitable; in his case, it would be to find a school capable of giving him a chance to play in the NFL. Most players choose to stay at the academy because of the lack of professional prospects. Middleton, however, was fresh off a sophomore year in which he recorded 80 tackles, five pass breakups and an interception. Despite that success, Middleton chose to honor his commitment to the Midshipmen.
"I had made a home at the academy," Middleton said. "I've started since my freshman year and I wouldn't want to start over anywhere else. I didn't want to break those bonds I had formed."
He added: "Not too many people go through what we go through. Waking up at 6 a.m every morning, going through military training, going through tough academics and then having a tough football practice. That brings you together really fast."
Growing up in Georgia, Middleton watched as his older siblings became stars in their respective sports. A natural rivalry seemed likely to brew between Wyatt and William. Thanks to the influence of his parents, Albert and Karen, the brothers learned to view each other's success as a positive thing.
"When it came to sports, [his parents] never really had us competing against each other," Middleton said. "They did a great job making us support each other . . . Sports is something that will bring you closer together, no matter who you are.
"My parents made me the man I am today. At the same time, Naval Academy was a good place for a person like me. Being able to talk to people, relate to people, things that I've learned growing up, are big at the academy. It has helped me grow in certain aspects, not only from a military standpoint. Being in the military, you have to grow up pretty fast. You're being forced to take a lot of responsibility at a young age."
For Middleton, starting in his fourth Army-Navy game is bittersweet. On one hand, he has an opportunity to go out with a perfect record against the Black Knights. But the game will mark the second-to-last time that Middleton will suit up as a member of the Navy football team.
"I'm sad that it's coming to an end," he said. "I've enjoyed it the whole time I've been at the academy. We definitely want to go out with that clean record [against Army]. Whether it was my freshman year or my sophomore year, you always want to beat your rival school. You always want to beat Army." *