CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Right after his grandfather's death in November, James Stovall honored him by wearing No. 87 during a Bradley Central football game. His granddad was 87.
Stovall now has made another decision with him in mind.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver backed out of his commitment to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and he will continue his football career at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Bradley coach Damon Floyd said James' grandfather was in the Navy, which played a part, as did the potential of the school joining the Big East as part of a football expansion for the conference. The Midshipmen currently compete as an independent.
Floyd said Stovall had a strong connection with Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who like the Bears senior is of Polynesian descent.
"I just couldn't pass up the opportunity that I saw in Navy," Stovall said Thursday. "It was just an opportunity to make money past college and be successful; in this economy, when I finish football and get out of college, I'll already have a job. This all came so fast, but the fact that I'm from a military family was just too much to pass up."
"The thing about James is that he's wanted to do this all along," Floyd said. "Even if he had played at UTC, then he would have joined the military after graduation."
Stovall was a two-time Class 6A all-state selection who made 121 catches for 1,771 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final two seasons for the Bears. They advanced to the state playoffs on both occasions.
He had a state-record 19 catches for 181 yards in a second-round loss to Oak Ridge in 2010. He might be hard-pressed to duplicate those stats, however, as the Midshipmen run an option offense.
"I know they like to run first, but they like to take their shots, and I feel like I can be the guy to get downfield and get my hands on the ball and make plays," Stovall said.
He will become the first Bears football player to sign with a Football Bowl Subdivision program since fullback/linebacker Blake Morris went to Middle Tennessee State in 2001. Junior offensive lineman Austin Sanders has committed to sign with Tennessee in 2013.
"Being at Bradley, we feel honored to coach players not only with the talent of James, but the character," Floyd said. "He's not only a great athlete but a straight-A student and a very unselfish kid. We're proud of the fact that he represents Bradley in a big way, and not just football.
"We've been fortunate to have him."