Alexander Teich has had his share of memorable games at the Naval Academy during his four years in Annapolis. At the top of the list was his performance last year against Notre Dame, when Teich rushed for 210 yards -- becoming the first Navy fullback to go over 200 yards in a game -- and caught his first touchdown pass in a 35-17 win.
Teich, now a senior, has also had a few games that he would rather forget -- including two against Air Force.
As the Midshipmen prepare for Saturday's nationally televised game against the Falcons at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Teich can't help but think about last year's 14-6 defeat in Colorado Springs. Or about the game two years ago, which Navy won but during which Teich was injured on what might be considered a dirty play.
Asked recently about last year's game, Teich said: "It was definitely my toughest loss playing sports ever. You feel like you let so many guys down. Not just the seniors on the team, but the guys who came before you when they started that tradition of beating Air Force and Army and you're the class that dropped the ball. That really hurt."
Air Force held Teich to 38 yards on eight carries, and Navy saw a streak of 15 straight wins over its service academy rivals end. It led to the Midshipmen failing to win the Commander in Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2002.
But the incentive Teich carries into this week's game also goes back to his sophomore year. In the midst of a 16-13 overtime win, Teich was grabbed by the ankle and pushed back into a pile by an Air Force player after the whistle blew. He wound up badly spraining his ankle, sitting out two games and losing his starting job to Vince Murray, who quickly emerged as a star.
Teich said he did not have full mobility in the ankle for the remainder of the season.
"That kind of ended my season. I've always had a little bit of a grudge" against Air Force, Teich said after a practice last week.
The injury Teich (pronounced TEACH) suffered against Air Force as a sophomore was typical of his football career in another way -- he was knocked down momentarily, only to return with an even bigger chip on his shoulder.
Patrick Teich has been watching his son follow that pattern for a long time. It started when the younger Teich was gang-tackled out-of-bounds and broke his collarbone when he was in middle school. In high school, he watched his son's helmet get ripped from his head and part of his nose torn off his face.
"I took him down to the hospital, and they had to sew his nose back on and the kid never cried," the older Teich recalled in a telephone interview from the family's home in Conroe, Texas. "It was amazing how he could endure pain. He's always been a tough kid."
So it figured that Alexander Teich went to his high school graduation in a wheelchair. A star catcher on the baseball team, Teich had played for weeks despite a painful knot in his quadriceps. An MRI revealed a staph infection had made it into his left leg. After twice undergoing surgery to remove it, Teich spent a week in intensive care and lost nearly 40 pounds.
"I almost lost a leg," Teich said matter-of-factly.
Teich wondered whether he should continue with his plan to attend the Naval Academy Prepatory School, and seriously thought about returning to Texas when he broke his thumb in his first game there.
"After that happened, I was down in the dumps," Teich said. "All this bad stuff was happening in a span of six months. I decided I was going to leave. A bunch of the guys came into my room that night and a few of them told me, 'You're not leaving. We've got big things we're going to do here, and you're going to be a part of that.'"
Not that it has been easy the past three years at the academy.
Patrick Teich said his son struggled with the rigors of academy life -- particularly the academic demands -- his first three years.
"We didn't know if he was going to make it," Patrick Teich said. "When it really changed was when he signed a letter just before his junior year. That's when we thought he would finish there. The first three years were a struggle."
Teich has survived, becoming a team co-captain this season with fellow senior Jabaree Tuani, and taking over as Navy's starting fullback after Murray's graduation. Teich has rushed 44 times for 270 yards, including 15 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in a 24-21 loss at then-No. 10 South Carolina in the Mids' most recent game.
Throughout his career, Teich has looked at various times like the player who was supposed to replace Eric Kettani as a sophomore. He showed flashes of that last season, when he reclaimed the starting position after Murray was injured. Teich finished with 863 yards and five touchdowns on 147 carries.
"He had a great start to his freshman year and then had some rocky parts," said Navy assistant Mike Judge, who came in to coach the fullbacks when Teich was a freshman. "He had a rough go as a sophomore, hurting his ankle against Air Force, and then Vince stepped in and had two 100-yard games in a row. But he helped us on special teams. I don't know if Alex would still be walking if he didn't have Vince to spell him those two years."
It's almost forgotten that Teich returned kickoffs his first three years, running back a couple against Army in 2009 and later that season in Navy's win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl. He averaged nearly 29 yards a return in the opener against Maryland as a junior. Judge said Teich "is still our best kick returner by far" but that Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn't want to risk losing him to another injury.
"He's overcome injuries, he's worked hard, he works as hard as anybody in the weight room in the offseason," Niumatalolo said. "That position takes a beating, but he's a very tough kid."
Patrick Teich said his son's senior year "has been a blessing so far" for the fact that he has remained injury-free.
Teich, who was heavily recruited by Air Force, is looking at this week's game with some measure of redemption. While he said that Air Force "is a fun game to play in, fun to get up for," he is also mindful of what happened to Navy last year and what happened to him two years ago.
"If you go back and watch [the play on which he was injured], it's kind of interesting to see how it all went down," he said. "Maybe there'll be a different outcome this time."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times