Those two youngsters grew up living and breathing Naval Academy athletics because of their family connections. On Wednesday, December 20, Berzins and Romo both achieved their childhood dreams by putting pen to paperwork formalizing their commitments to play football at Navy.
“I’m just really thankful that all the hard work I’ve put in over the last four years has paid off in this way,” said Berzins, a defensive end who has been committed to the Midshipmen since late May.
Berzins and Romo participated in a National Signing Day ceremony at the St. Mary’s field house overlooking Pascal Field on Wednesday. They were joined by teammate Ryan Poole, a cornerback who inked a National Letter of Intent with William & Mary.
Those three were among a handful of football players from Anne Arundel County that took advantage of the new early signing period, which began Wednesday and continues through Friday. Archbishop Spalding had two Division I prospects affirm their commitments on Wednesday with outside linebacker DaeSean Winston signing with Temple and two-way lineman Cody Winokur making things more official with Army West Point.
Football recruits planning to attend any of the three major service academies do not sign a binding National Letter of Intent. Air Force, Army and Navy provide paperwork that prospects such as Berzins, Romo and Winokur can autograph during National Signing Day events such as those held by St. Mary’s and Spalding on Wednesday.
Berzins, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end, is a legacy recruit many times over as his father and six uncles all graduated from the Naval Academy. Two of those uncles – Ray Berzins and Gerard Shanley – played football for Navy.
Tim Berzins, Class of 1995, was thankful his son possessed a talent that helped gain appointment and admission to his alma mater.
“It’s very difficult to get into the Naval Academy and football did help out considerably,” the elder Berzins said. “I’m just very happy for Timber because he has worked really hard to get to this point. It’s going to be a big challenge for Timber and I pray mostly that he graduates. Being able to play big-time football is the gravy on top.”
Timber is the second oldest of 15 children born to Tim and Eileen Berzins. Gerard, his younger brother and St. Mary’s classmate, was an All-County linebacker and led Anne Arundel County with 141 tackles. Gerard Berzins is also hoping to attend the Naval Academy and has been told by the football coaching staff that he will be given a shot as an invited walk-on.
“I’m the first grandchild going to the Naval Academy so to continue the family tradition means everything to me,” said Timber Berzins, who recorded 85 tackles (19 for loss) this season and was recently chosen to receive the Al Laramore Memorial Award as the Most Outstanding Lineman in Anne Arundel County. “I’m extremely grateful because I know how competitive it is to get an appointment to the Naval Academy. My father told me it would help if I became a good football player and that’s what I did.”
Romo also longed to play football at Navy and was worried he might not get the opportunity. The Midshipmen showed interest in the 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle, but did not put forward an offer. That changed on Tuesday when Navy assistant Napoleon Sykes, who recruits the state of Maryland, informed the late bloomer that he was welcome to join the program’s 2018 recruiting class.
“This is a great day for St. Mary’s High and our football program,” head coach Jason Budroni said. “To have one player going to the Naval Academy is tremendous. To now have two is just amazing. I’m really happy for Jamie because he has come a long way.”
Romo stood just 5-foot-5 and weighed a mere 145 pounds as a freshman at St. Mary’s, seeing very little playing time as a wide receiver on junior varsity. He has grown 10 inches and added 140 pounds since then, developing into a dominant offensive tackle for the Saints.
“Jamie just kept getting bigger and bigger until he turned into a monster. You can’t get him out of the lunch room or the weight room. He’s either eating or lifting, one or the other,” Budroni said. “Jamie is a big, strong kid who moves well and has an aggressive attitude. He was just mauling people this season.”
Romo is the grandson of a Navy athletics legend – longtime head trainer Leon “Red” Romo, who treated such all-time greats as Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino and Napoleon McCallum during a remarkable 41-year tenure. Red Romo retired in 1997 and died two years later at the age of 78, but his memory lives on through an endowed scholarship created by his son.
Rusty Romo, longtime owner of Harry Browne’s Restaurant, founded the scholarship 17 years ago in order to support student trainers at the Naval Academy. Rusty and Sharon Romo were absolutely thrilled to see their son formally accept the offer to play football at Navy.
“This is a wonderful day and a great tribute to Jamie’s grandfather, who he never met. Red would be the happiest man in the world right now,” Rusty Romo said. “It’s going to be great seeing a Romo run onto the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium without a saline bottle and a pair of scissors. We’re really, really excited about this. You just cannot imagine what this means for the Romo family.”
Jamie Romo, who played in the Baltimore Touchdown Club Senior All-Star game on Saturday, had planned to sign with Holy Cross on Wednesday. One call from Navy was all it took to change his mind.
“Being an Annapolis kid and growing up a huge Navy fan, this is a super special moment,” Romo said. “I wasn’t sure it was going to happen at all, much less this early. I’m just really grateful to be getting the chance to play at Navy. This is a dream come true, especially because of my grandfather. I grew up hearing all the time about Red Romo’s legacy at the academy and I know my grandfather would have been really proud.”
Navy does not release a list of its football recruits because they do not sign a National Letter of Intent. Also, head coach Ken Niumatalolo is not allowed to talk about them since they are still considered recruitable athletes eligible to sign with another Division I program.
However, Niumatalolo did discuss the early National Signing Day and said he hopes it relieves some of the pressure on prospects and their families.
“Hopefully, this will allow kids that are truly committed to complete the recruiting process and be able to focus on school and enjoying their senior year,” he said.
Niumatalolo has noticed the advent of an earlier signing date has changed the timeline of the recruiting process. Schools are offering scholarships to prospects earlier than ever and conducting official visits during the summer months.
“Everything has pushed up and now we have sophomores visiting campus and juniors committing,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m not so sure that is good for either the players or the programs.”
Many Division I head coaches have said the early signing day provides clarity as it allows schools to lock down certain recruits. There seems to be a consensus that any prospects that do not sign during this period and wait for the second National Signing Date in early February must be considered wide-open with regard to college choice.
“I definitely think it clears up some things. I know we are trying to get as many of our recruits to sign during the first date so we can see exactly where we are in terms of numbers,” Niumatalolo said. “I know most of the coaches take the approach of: If you have an offer and are committed and don’t sign now, that let’s us know you are still looking around. That means we better start looking around as well.”