David Forney Billy Honaker Military Navy
Two months later, Forney was found dead in his dormitory in Bancroft Hall from sudden cardiac arrest.
“Losing Dave was probably the toughest moment of my life,” said Honaker, “and something that really affected me and other people on the offensive and the entire team.” … I was just weighing what that number meant for us and his family.
“I thought the first time this number should be worn in the field is Army-Navy and by someone who knew who he was and who loved him. The only thing I can really do now is play in a way that honors him and who he was as a football player. “
Forney’s death on Feb.20 has shocked waves throughout the program. He had played 39 games in a row and was preparing for NFL trials. Forney helped advance the nation’s No. 1 running game last season when Malcolm Perry set the FBS record for the rush of a quarterback. The midshipmen took 20th place and set a school record with 11 wins.
He had no previous medical problems, no warning signs, before it was discovered he was unresponsive while working on a paper and peeling an orange at his desk.
“The fight is real, you know what I mean?” Forney’s dad Rick said. “You can’t prepare for something like that. … I think if it’s your time, it’s your time. Maybe one day when we meet up with David again, we will find out what happened. We are utterly devastated to say the least.
“I can’t tell you how many letters my wife and I have received from parents of midshipmen we didn’t know before. Some of them were newbies who spent a short time with Dave. They got put down by this because Dave went out of his way to be friendly with everyone. … Dave was a good friend, a good teammate, and he was looking for people, especially his brothers. “
The process of returning the # 68 began with a text from Hornaker to TJ Salu and Kendel Wright. They were Forney’s best friends, and Honaker wanted to pass his idea on by them. He had some concerns that it was too early, but they were on board. Honaker then reached out to Forney’s brother Chris, who is still playing Call of Duty on Xbox with the trio. Then he spoke to Rick Forney, who was both surprised and touched.
The Forneys had met the Navy’s offensive linemen, especially the three, over the years, and had even brought them home on occasion. Rick, an Annapolis-born American who had spoken to David about playing in Navy in middle school, thought Honaker would just call to have a chat. But he had a more serious question.
“I would never say no to Billy for anything,” said Rick.
This 121st Army (7-2) / Navy (3-6) meeting will be like no other held on an Academy campus for the first time since 1943 at the height of a global pandemic. Lincoln Financial Field was unable to accommodate the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen due to security restrictions for Covid-19, so Army, the home-designate, was selected to host the game. Both teams dealt with the chaos on schedule this fall, as programs across the country worked out their seasons together. Navy had a 28-day break between games due to outbreaks, postponements and cancellations.
But as Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo pointed out, his team had a tragic start to the year with Forney’s death. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper called Forney “a big, gentle teddy bear” who always had the opportunity to improve difficult situations. He recalled a game where running game coordinator and offensive coach Ashley Ingram berated the line for poor play when Forney stepped in.
“David when David said, ‘Coach, you know how to behave, doesn’t help the situation at all,'” Jasper recalled. “Only in a moment when Coach Ingram just lost it. … That’s just the way it is [Forney] was.
“He found a way to make things comfortable. Although it was a very tense moment, he found a way to put a little humility, a little bit of comedy into it. “
Rick Forney will be watching Saturday’s game with his family and expects to get a little emotional before kick-off. The splendor will be in full effect, and then come the moment Honaker sprints onto the field ready to play the left guard – Forney’s old position – while wearing this # 68.
“I will probably pull a tear into my eye and make myself cry for the first 10 minutes of the ball game,” said Rick.
A permanent image of Forney was captured moments after last year’s Army game, the Navy’s first win in the series since 2015 and the only one in his career. A big, toothy, open-mouthed smile can be seen on his face as he is surrounded by teammates and the brigade of midshipmen, celebrating victory. The 22-year-old’s hair is a brown streak of a sweaty mess, and the # 68 gold stands out on a blue field stained with 60 minutes of mud and grime from the greatest moment of his college career.
“I just looked up at him and he was like a big brother to me,” said Honaker. “The heartache doesn’t come from him, that he no longer plays football or something. It’s the fact that we lost a friend. Someone we won’t visit later in life and see their family. Such things.
“Probably the most painful part of losing him is that we’ve lost a great friend for years. That’s the hardest part about it. “