Diego Fagot has emerged as the latest legitimate NFL prospect for the Navy Midshipmen.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound junior linebacker has the size and speed to play at the next level. He’s already garnered national attention, and his talent will allow second-year defensive coordinator Brian Newberry to expand the playbook even further in 2020.

“He can run, he can hit, he’s smart,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “With a guy like Diego, you’re able to expand a little bit more and continue to add stuff to the package because not only can he handle it mentally, but also from a physical standpoint. His football IQ is really high and it allows us to tinker with things.”

Fagot was named to the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is given to the national defensive player of the year by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club. He is one of six players from the American Athletic Conference on the watch list, joining Darrick Forrest (Cincinnati), Richie Grant (UCF), Ifeanyi Maijeh (Temple), Aaron Robinson (UCF) and James Wiggins (Cincinnati).

Fagot is also on the watch list for the Bednarik Award and was named a preseason third-team All-American by Phil Steele.

“For the program, obviously, it’s a great honor — for me as well. To be recognized, just to even be considered for these types of awards is just very humbling,” Fagot said. “Obviously I’m not going to let it skew my focus in any way.”

Last year, Fagot started all 13 games as a sophomore and helped Navy compile an 11-2 record, win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and beat Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. The Midshipmen finished the year ranked No. 20 in the AP and coaches’ polls.

Fagot led the team in tackles in 2019 with 100 (52 solo) and was second on the team in tackles for a loss (12) and sacks (5.5). He had two forced fumbles, broke up two passes and had an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Fagot was named first-team All-AAC and was the Liberty Bowl Defensive Player of the Game.

Fagot plans to take another step forward in his second year in Newberry’s system, and he is excited to see how a better understanding of the defense will translate on the field.

“I have the liberty to play as fast as I can, whereas last year sometimes I hesitated a little bit just because I did know my job but I wasn’t too sure about it,” Fagot said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t take those chances to run through a gap and make a tackle. I would just kind of sit back and wait to see what the running back does, whereas this year I know, ‘OK, listen, I have this gap and I know there’s someone outside who’s going to force the ball back even if I don’t make this play, so let me just take the chance.'”

Fagot played a key role in the defense’s complete turnaround from 2018. Navy improved in nearly every defensive category, including third-down defense (121st nationally to 20th), rushing defense (90th to 10th), total defense (86th to 16th) and scoring defense (103rd to 34th).

Niumatalolo credits Newberry for making such a huge impact on the program in his first year. And Newberry expects his players, including Fagot, to play even better this year.

“I think we have a long way to go and there’s a ton of room for improvement,” Newberry said. “Our guys know that from watching the film from last season and seeing the mistakes.”

Fagot started last season strong and helped pave the way for success even though he battled injuries late in the season. The extra time off because of the restrictions related to COVID-19 helped him heal. Now, he’s fully healthy and prepared to help the Midshipmen play even better defensively in a system that should include some new wrinkles.

“Coach Newberry trusts me a lot. He trusts the whole defense as a whole,” Fagot said. “We’re going to be taking a really big step this year because most of the guys on defense are returning. So having him know that we know this defense way better is going to [make it] way easier for him because he is just going to [say], ‘OK, we’re going to start throwing way more things at you guys this year versus last year.’ He kind of kept it basic in some ways actually at the beginning of the year.”

This offseason has been challenging amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the AAC is forging ahead with its season. The Midshipmen are scheduled to kick off the season against BYU at Navy Marine-Corps Stadium Sept. 7 and open conference play at Tulane Sept. 19.

Niumatalolo and his players are confident they are in a very safe place at the U.S. Naval Academy. All of the social distancing guidelines are in place, and the players are adhering to the rules in practice.

“Listening to our doctors and trainers, keeping people separate and in small groups is the best thing. Obviously, it’s not the best thing for football,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m trying to keep our team as separate as possible, so if someone happens to test positive it doesn’t take out our entire starting offensive line.”

The new types of practices are also an adjustment for the players. There were no offseason workouts, so the players had to work out at home. Fagot was creative in his native South Florida, where he was a three-sport athlete — football, baseball and track and field — at Calvary Christian Academy. He worked out with friends, but he’s grateful to be back at Navy for the season.

“Coming back to the Academy, I don’t think I was at my peak or my best,” Fagot said. “I did what I could at home. Everyone on the team was just trying to do as much as they can so that they could at least maintain or have some type of foundation so that you’re not starting from [scratch]. … We should be fine.”

Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

Issue 264: September 2020

Originally published Sept. 2, 2020

Todd Karpovich

See all posts by Todd Karpovich. Follow Todd Karpovich on Twitter at @toddkarpovich