In the ever-changing landscape of college football and intercollegiate athletics as a whole, the nation’s service academies have proven to be one of the few constants.

For FBS schools Army, Navy and Air Force, players are unable to redshirt, nor are they allowed to profit off of NIL (name, image and likeness) legislation that passed last July. Furthermore, none of the above schools are allowed to add players via the NCAA transfer portal.

All the latest sports news from Hawaii’s sports station

But for all the times athletes at service academies aren’t able to capitalize on opportunities the rest of their non-service counterparts can, the prestige of representing one’s military branch and country remains priceless and timeless. Navy slotback and former Punahou standout Vincent Terrell understands the feeling, especially on a day like the Fourth of July.

Vincent Terrell (Courtesy Navy Athletics)

“It’s definitely something unique. It’s not my first Fourth of July but being involved in the military now, people will come up to you and thank you for your service,” Terrell, a quantitative economics major at Navy, told KHON2. “You might not think it’s much, but you realize you’re doing something more than just playing football. You’re prepping yourself to go out and serve your country and give back. I think that’s something unique, I’ve lived it all my life. My dad’s in the Air Force, my mom was in the Army and moved around a lot but doing it myself, it’s definitely something special, you gotta take some steps back and just recognize what you’re doing.”

Terrell caught the attention of Navy as a star running back and returner at Punahou, where he was the 2019 Cover2 Chad Owens Special Teams Player of the Year as a senior. He enrolled at the Naval Academy in the summer of 2020, back when the COVID-19 pandemic put the college sports season in serious doubt. The Midshipmen went 3-7 with three canceled games, and Terrell did not appear in any games.

“Coming to Navy, not as relaxed as coming from Punahou. It definitely was a shell shock when you get there,” Terrell recalled. “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. That’s something that I’ve had to come into, this mindset that I’m not the last one to do it and I’m not the first. You gotta learn to grow here. That’s something that definitely Navy brings to the table: You grow up really fast, you mature. That’s probably been the hardest part, taking that step from going from high school athlete or high school student athlete to a future officer. That’s something big that the Navy instills in you.”

Navy went 4-8 in the 2021 season but ended with a 17-13 win over main rival Army in the annual Army-Navy game, going 3-2 down the stretch after beginning the season 1-6. Terrell appeared in five games, primarily on special teams, where he returned three kicks. His longest return was for 29 yards against East Carolina.

Terrell’s true emergence as an impact player for Navy came during spring practice earlier this year, exiting as the team’s first-string slotback. In April, he won the program’s Admiral Mack Award, given annually to the team’s most improved player during spring ball.

“Playing A-back or slot here, it’s really detailed,” Terrell says. “I gotta know the offense, know what steps I gotta take, be able to read the defense. It was a big learning curve and I had really intelligent guys like Chance (Warren) and Tyger (Goslin) in the A-back room before me that taught me how to read defenses, or take my protocol, doing the little things.

“I’m excited. We had a lot of young guys play last year, but we also did lose a lot of guys. With young people, at some point we have to grow up, right? I think that’s where we’re at right now. Our quarterbacks Tai (Lavatai) and X (Arline) each have years under their belt. They’re running the offense, spring they were coming out with command in their voice. At the A-back group, we’re probably the youngest group. Not a lot of us have played too many games but as a unit during spring, we really gelled and really worked hard. I’m excited. As an offense, we’re putting in some new things and we’re ready to work.”

Terrell is one of three players from Hawaii currently on the Navy roster, along with former Punahou teammate Trent Shiraki and former Kamehameha linebacker Akalea Kapono.

This fall, Terrell will be a junior and one of the veterans of a young team. The Midshipmen open their 2022 season on Sept. 3 against Delaware. It will also mark the 15th full season at the helm for head coach Ken Niumatalolo, a Radford alum who played collegiately at Hawaii. Right alongside Niumatalolo is offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, another former UH player who has been at the staff at Navy for the past 20 years. Also on the staff is Va’a Niumatalolo (Ken’s son), who was a UH assistant during an 18-11 run for the Rainbow Warriors from 2018 to 2019.

“It’s great. I definitely wouldn’t change anything about it. I know committing here, I wanted to go where I was wanted and where home’s at. Of course coach Ken’s from Hawaii, most of the staff has some connection to Hawaii. I can honestly say these coaches care. They care about football, but they also care about your development as a man and how you’re doing personally and mentally. Coach Ken’s a very quiet to himself type of person until you mess up and he’ll get on you but he doesn’t need to say much for his message to get across. He just wants us to put our head down and grind,” Terrell said. “We may not be the biggest team, we may not be the fastest team, but he says there’s no other way. Our workouts are hard, but everyone’s working out. He’s always like, ‘What is gonna set you apart from everyone else?’ That’s something I love about coach Ken. He pushes us to be our best football player, person and man.”