For Navy's Sinitiere, pain takes back seat

Linebacker's love of game bigger than broken foot

College Football

October 04, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

What can you say about a guy who keeps playing football despite a broken bone in his foot, making it feel like a knife digging into his heel?

That he's a little crazy?

That he's tougher than leather?

That he was born to play middle linebacker?

For Navy junior Andy Sinitiere, the answers are: Yes, yes and yes.

"I can deal with any pain," Sinitiere said. "The way I look at it is, if my car's not totaled, I'm going to keep driving it."

After all, what would his heroes, Zach Thomas and Mike Singletary, do? That's the way Sinitiere looks at it. All his life he's dreamed of playing college football, of knocking heads with opposing running backs, which he will do plenty when Navy (1-3) travels to Colorado Springs tomorrow to take on rival Air Force (4-0).

Some guys come to the Naval Academy hoping to find an identity, but growing up in Humble, Texas, Sinitiere knew well in advance what he wanted.

"A lot of kids grow up watching cartoons, but I grew up watching game films," Sinitiere says. "I've geared my whole life toward living like a middle linebacker. Every interview I could find with a middle linebacker, I just devoured it. I read them over and over like they were my history books."

So, if you're going to keep him off the field on Saturdays, you'd better be prepared to chain him to his bunk. And even then, you'd better lock the door to his room, just for good measure.

"When they first told me I'd broken the navicular bone in my foot [in the second game of the season, Sept. 7], they said I'd have to sit out four weeks," Sinitiere says. "Then, they said it might be eight weeks, then 10. Eventually, they started talking about surgery and putting screws in."

He would hear none of it. Eventually, doctors decided Sinitiere probably wasn't going to do any additional damage, so if he could deal with the pain, he was welcome to try and play the rest of the season.

"It took a couple days to feel things out," Sinitiere says. "It's like a relationship. I just had to get to know the pain a little bit, and it had to get to know me. Once we figured that out, we got along just fine."

When you're a 5-foot-11, 215-pound ball of intensity, it's just the way you do things. Sinitiere grew up with two older and two younger brothers, all of them athletes, all of them ready to wrestle on the living room floor at a moment's notice.

"Three of my brothers actually played golf in college," Sinitiere says. "I did play a little bit growing up, but it just wasn't for me. I just like running into stuff too much, I guess."

Despite his size, Sinitiere had some serious interest from Division I schools after a standout sophomore year at Humble High School. But a knee injury cost him his entire junior season, and all the recruiters vanished.

"All of them except Coach [Todd] Spencer," Sinitiere said of Navy's offensive line coach. "I'm like a pit bull; I'm really big on loyalty. It's the one thing I strive for in myself and others. Coach Spencer was loyal to me. He stayed true to me even after I got hurt. I knew right then I wanted to come here."

Despite his size, he's been impossible to keep out of the lineup. As a sophomore, he played in every game, and this season he's developed into a starter and a leader. In Navy's lone win this season, Sinitiere made 10 tackles and broke up a pass against SMU.

"When I'm a Mid, they can tell me to get up at this time and to march at this time and when to march or drill," Sinitiere said. "But when I'm inside those white lines, it's my chance to be all that I've ever wanted to be.

"The fact that people cheer for me when I'm out there, that they admire me for playing through a broken foot, it's just amazing to me because I'm already having the time of my life."

Next for Navy

Opponent: Air Force (4-0)

Site:Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs, Colo.

When:Tomorrow, 3 p.m.

Radio:WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line:Air Force by 23

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