ANNAPOLIS --- Navy linebacker Brye French was behind, the product of playing lacrosse rather than going through spring practice.
But not for long.
The sophomore emerged as one of the standouts of the first two weeks of Navy's football camp, leaping from unlisted on the depth chart to a co-starter with Aaron McCauley at outside linebacker.
"It's not a surprise, because we thought we saw that early on," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "There's some guys that are rep guys and need to get a ton of reps. We've always felt that he had good football instincts and we're seeing that now."
But he's also a promising lacrosse player, having picked up both sports at an early age. The son of a retired Air Force officer, French was a standout in football and lacrosse while attending high school in Alabama.
Though the south isn't home to many traditional lacrosse hotbeds, French got to know Richie Meade through a camp the Navy coach ran. Meanwhile, football assistant Keith Jones began recruiting French for football.
Eventually, French went to the Naval Academy Prep School in a football slot with the understanding he would have the chance to play both in college.
He did as a freshman, appearing on special teams in four football games last year and picking up two tackles. In the spring, Meade found a place for French in the defensive midfield and, eventually, on the faceoff wing. French had three groundballs in Navy's Patriot League final loss to Army in May.
"He's not an athlete who plays lacrosse," Meade said. "He's a lacrosse player who is an athlete."
French, however, is also a football player. Days after the lacrosse season ended, he met with Niumatalolo to figure out what was required of him in the offseason to be ready to contribute once August arrived.
One big difference was reshaping his body. He played between 200 and 205 pounds in lacrosse --- on the low side for a linebacker, even at Navy.
"He said just put on weight but make sure you can run," said French, who is now around 217 pounds.
French took a couple days off after the lacrosse season, then became a weight room regular. He also returned to Annapolis early after a week at home and invested much of his available time in preparing for the season.
"We knew coming in that he was going to play both his first year," defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. "But he did a great job this summer studying video, [going through] summer workouts and getting himself ready to play this season and having a chance to compete in the depth chart. He did the things he had to do in the spring, summer and leading up to camp."
It's difficult to play both sports anywhere, but the demands of the academy make it even more strenuous. Meade recalled Joe Papetti, a second-team All-America pick in lacrosse in 1985, and 1999 football co-captain Jamie Doffermyre as somewhat recent examples of guys who managed to juggle both.
Now, it seems, French could join that list. Meade said French's future in lacrosse could be at the offensive end, but for now there's the matter of locking down a role with the Mids as an outside linebacker --- a spot Green considers one of the most mentally challenging positions on the defense.
"I'm blessed to be able to have the opportunity to jump up," French said. "I didn't think going in I'd move to striker and jump up quickly. It is a big shocker."
Meade acknowledged French's greatest asset was likely his coachability, and Green was particularly impressed that French could pick up so many concepts so quickly.
In the short term, French's intelligence gives him a better chance than most to make a difference despite spending a spring away from football. But in the long term, it might push off a decision French never wanted to make: Choosing one sport over the other.
"I started football and lacrosse at the same time and that was always my dream: To play football and lacrosse in college --- and actually play," French said. "I understand there's probably some choices that might have to be made. I just hope coaches and I, we can all work it out and [I'll] be able to play both."