Alex Tecza raised his arms into the air near the pylon of the far end zone at Hersheypark Stadium, almost as if inviting his Mt. Lebanon teammates into a quick hug — a hug that quickly turned to a dog pile.
Tecza’s short touchdown run late in the fourth quarter of the PIAA Class-6A championship all but clinched the first title in school history, but he made sure to emphasize ‘finishing’ the job. On an unseasonably warm December night in Hershey, Pa., Tecza’s icy coolness helped vanquish a superpower in St. Joseph’s Prep out of Philadelphia.
With two touchdowns on the ground and one through the air, Tecza’s three score night fueled the upset over the three-time defending state champs. However, something was missing. If he scored through the air and on the ground, the only other logical way to score would have been over the sea, right?
Well, that decision would just have to come a little bit later for Tecza.
Tecza’s time at Mt. Lebanon, his hometown school, helped to prepare him for a college decision that won’t just impact his next four years of student-athletics but the rest of his life.
Despite some late Power Five interest from schools like Michigan, Pitt, Penn State and Northwestern, Tecza turned down Ivy League offers to officially commit to the Naval Academy to continue his education and play Division I football.
I would like to thank my Mom and Dad and my entire family who have loved and supported me all the way! Thank you to every coach and teammate who has believed in me! With that being said, I have decided to commit to continue my academic and athletic career at the Naval Academy! pic.twitter.com/cBLkqMCNGM
— AlexTecza (@AlexTecza2) January 21, 2022
It was a long process for Tecza, who picked up his Navy offer back in March, and while it took some time to narrow down exactly where he wanted to play college football, the decision is a weight off his shoulders.
For a young man who’s watched Army-Navy games since he was just a kid, his love for Navy stretching toward a decade now, it’s been a long time coming.
However, the decision to commit — truly give himself to the cause — to Navy wasn’t an overnight choice. It wasn’t as easy as taking a night to sleep on it. The Navy is a big commitment, but the pieces of the puzzle fit together perfectly in the end.
“I think the biggest thing is when I first met the coaches, they really stood out to me as guys I could get behind,” Tecza told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “That’s the game-changer, right? The relationship you have with a coaching staff, that’s why you go to a school.”
Ken Niumatalolo has been the head coach at Navy since 2007, guiding the Midshipmen to a period of success unlike any in the modern era in the AAC, but it was fullbacks coach Jason MacDonald and wide receivers coach Mick Yokitis that pulled Tecza to Navy.
While Tecza has already grown to deeply appreciate Annapolis, Md., the city where the Severn River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, it was the relationship he’s already forged with the Navy coaching staff that won him over. The campus is great, the facilities are top-notch, but it’s the interpersonal ties that turned the tide. In interacting with the staff, he got to see how his future coaches treated him and each other — and he loved what he saw.
In fact, it wasn’t all that different from his coaching staff at Mt. Lebanon, which all starts with the legendary Bob Palko.
“I think the biggest thing between them, the biggest similarity, is just how they act on and off the field,” Tecza said. “On the field, they’re super intense, I’m sure. I know my coaching staff — coach Palko and his guys — is super intense. They’re all about business, they’re all about the fundamentals on the practice field and the game field, but off the field, they’re all such good guys. You can have a conversation with them for hours and hours.”
The coaching staffs aren’t the only area of similarity between Mt. Lebanon and Navy either. As much as football is a part of Tecza’s life, academics are just as important — and Mt. Lebo prepared him well.
“Mt. Lebanon is known as a really, really good academic school,” Tecza said. “Football, that was huge. Having that kind of coaching staff that pushed me as hard as they did, that’s a big, big reason why I think I’m going to do well at the Academy. Mt. Lebanon is known for their really hard academics, their really good academics, and Navy is not easy by any means.”
Tecza acknowledged the seriousness of the decision to serve at the Naval Academy. In choosing to enroll at the Naval Academy, you have to decide whether you want to serve. Whether you’ll like it or be able to handle the rigors that arrive with choosing a service academy. It’s not a four year decision, it’s a lifetime decision.
“I’ve talked to so many people who have went through it, and the crazy thing I’ve heard is not one person regrets it or disliked it or wished they didn’t go to the Academy,” Tecza said. “Everyone loved it, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Having the opportunity to counsel with a grandfather who served in the U.S. Marines and another who served in the U.S. Air Force, and another uncle who served in the armed forces, Tecza heard first hand how the service academy would change his life. It was a big decision, but Tecza felt like he learned enough to confidently feel like he was going love going to the Academy.
“(My family) was pumped,” Tecza said. “Everyone was so excited. My dad especially since he’s been in it since I was a kid. He grew up playing since he was a kid, and just with recruiting, he’s always in it. He’s always asking who the coaches are, who’s texting you, what’s Twitter like?”
While Tecza did admit he waited just a bit to gauge the interest from schools such as Penn State, Michigan and Pitt, he took a step back finally to look at where he was at. It would have been a massive opportunity to play for a blue blood college program, but in weighing all his options and walking through the process, Navy emerged as his biggest and best opportunity. No matter what happens on the gridiron, Tecza has the chance to leave the Academy as a captain with a degree.
And it doesn’t hurt that fellow Mt. Lebanon star Eli Heidenreich is also headed to Navy to continue his academic and athlete career, which only continues a close friendship that has lasted since the pair was just boys.
“It’s amazing,” Tecza said. “It’s going to make it a lot easier. I’ve grown up playing football with him since the first grade. I’ve known him and his family for years and years, and I think that’s huge just because of how hard the Academy can be. To have someone to talk to and someone that you know, there’s going to be a lot of new faces at the Academy, and that’s probably the hardest thing about college. You’re leaving your old life behind and kinda starting a new one, so to have him to just go through it with me and we’re on the football team together, so I think it’s going to make it a lot easier.”
The next chapter of Tecza’s — and Heidenreich’s — life begins on June 30, when the newest class of cadets will head to Annapolis for “Plebe Summer.” The incoming Midshipmen will learn to sail and fire rifles, acclimate to life as a cadet and learn the campus and the staff that will nurture them for the next four years — or longer.
Life at the Academy — which, of course, includes football — starts soon after. And while Tecza isn’t quite sure what he’ll be majoring in just yet, he’s excited to get started. If the NFL isn’t in the cards after four years, which he’s hopeful of, it’ll be five years of military service following graduation.
And after that, it’s all up to the cadet on how they choose to use the degree they’ve earned after four years at the Academy. Some choose to stay in the Navy, others move on with their lives, but the Navy will always be there.
Even though Tecza hasn’t officially been a part of the Army-Navy rivalry growing up, he’s always watched it from afar.
“I’ve always liked Navy as a kid,” Tecza said. “Growing up, I watched all the Army-Navy games. I mean, that’s one of the best games you can watch all year during football season.”
Now, he’ll be a part of the biggest game of the year. At least, for the next four years.