Jake Springer played one of the best football seasons at Navy. Here's why he transferred to Ole Miss

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — Ole Miss might be landlocked, but this fall it'll be relying on safety help from the United States Navy.

Senior defensive back Jake Springer has been one of the standout performers for Ole Miss football this spring. Springer sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules after coming to Oxford via the U.S. Naval Academy.

In his last year at Navy, Springer put together one of the best defensive seasons in school history, leading the team with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The 16 TFLs are the fifth-most in a single season in Navy history and the eight sacks are the third most. Springer also logged seven quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 2019.

At Navy, Springer played the "striker" position, a hybrid outside linebacker who dropped in coverage and rushed the passer. Springer is playing all over the defense for Ole Miss but said he's primarily repping at boundary safety. That means Springer is responsible for contain on the short side of the field.

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He also plays a "rover" position in three-safety looks, putting him more in the box as an extra linebacker when fellow safeties A.J. Finley and Otis Reese are also on the field. And he sometimes also lines up as a true nickelback, serving a role similar to his striker job at Navy.

"I think Jake is a phenomenal player," senior defensive back Jaylon Jones said. "I think he brings a lot of versatility, aggressiveness, that swagger he brings. Like he said, he really could play everywhere. Where we've got him now, I think he's in a good position. He's a guy that could play the run, cover, be a ballhawk. He's definitely a vital piece in this defense."

Navy ranked No. 16 in total defense in 2019. Going from being the most productive player to having to sit out and play scout team for the second-worst total defense in college football would be hard for most.

But Springer said he used the opportunity to hone his craft further. He said he lined up against All-America wide receiver Elijah Moore every day in practice, preparing him for the rigors of the SEC. He said he sat in on a number of position meetings, including offensive ones so he could learn how wide receivers are taught to attack defensive backs. He said he used the opportunity to soak in the schemes taught to him by co-defensive coordinators Chris Partridge and D.J. Durkin.

"Ole Miss for me checks all the boxes," Springer said. "It's a big-time program. Best conference in the nation. We've got big-time athletes here. We've got coach Kiffin coming in and establishing his schemes and what he's got going on in his organization. That's what attracted me really. It was a no-brainer from that first call.

Even though Springer had to sit out last year, he doesn't gain an extra year of eligibility back. This season will be his final one, and what happens after that for Springer is hard to say.

Students at the U.S. Naval Academy, or any service academy for that matter, sign 2-for-7 contracts beginning their third year at the school. Effectively, any Midshipman who begins his or her third year in Annapolis must sign a contract pledging to give two more years of service at the school and an additional five after graduation.

Those who do not fulfill their military service are subject to "recoupment" for the cost of the education provided on a prorated monthly basis.

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When asked about his remaining military obligation, Springer did not say whether he will return to the service after his time at Ole Miss is up or if he has sought to be or already been discharged. 

Springer's story isn't wholly unique. In the last three years, 14 Navy football players have entered the NCAA transfer portal along with four players from Army and 19 from Air Force. Springer is one of just two players in that group who transferred from a service academy to a Power 5 football program.

"I love Jake Springer," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said in a statement to the Clarion Ledger. "He is a wonderful young man with a great heart. He had one of the best single seasons as a defensive player in Navy football history in 2019.  We miss him but are super excited about his future at Ole Miss and beyond."

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin also has a high opinion of Springer. Springer said he came to Ole Miss because of a relationship with Partridge, who recruited him out of the transfer portal. 

But Kiffin said Springer's past at Navy was one of the assets that made him attractive to Ole Miss, and that past has shown itself in the year and a half he's been with the team.

"When you look at transfers, it's not just the player but where they came from and the system that they're in," Kiffin said. "That a lot of times has to do with whether they can play early. Much like NFL people look at certain college teams and programs and say there's going to be an easier transition than others. He's been great."

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.